Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders

(Hardback - Apr 2006)
$21.96 - Online Price
$24.95 - Retail Price
You save: $2.99 (12 %)


Based on his extensive experience as coach and mentor to many thousands of Christian leaders across a broad spectrum of ministry settings, Reggie McNeal helps spiritual leaders understand that they will self-select into or out of greatness. In this important book, McNeal shows how great spiritual leaders are committed consciously and intentionally to seven spiritual disciplines, habits of heart and mind that shape both their character and competence:

The discipline of self-awareness--the single most important body of information a leader possesses

The discipline of self-management--handling difficult emotions, expectations, temptations, mental vibrancy, and physical well-being

The discipline of self-development--a life-long commitment to learning and growing and building on one's strengths

The discipline of mission--enjoying the permissions of maintaining the sense of God's purpose for your life and leadership

The discipline of decision-making--knowing the elements of good decisions and learning from failure

The discipline of belonging--the determination to nurture relationships and to live in community with others, including family, followers, mentors, and friends

The discipline of aloneness--the intentional practice of soul-making solitude and contemplation


  • SKU: 9780787977535
  • SKU10: 0787977535
  • Title: Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders
  • Series: Leadership Networks
  • Qty Remaining Online: 8
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass
  • Date Published: Apr 2006
  • Pages: 170
  • Weight lbs: 0.80
  • Dimensions: 9.31" L x 6.32" W x 0.76" H
  • Features: Table of Contents, Price on Product, Index, Dust Cover, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Mainline;
  • Category: SPIRITUALITY
  • Subject: Spirituality - General

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One


Harold didn't quite see it coming. The young pastor had enjoyed phenomenal and early success in the ministry. Every assignment he had attempted went well. His reputation for being an effective leader grew right along with the church he had planted. However, without Harold realizing it, the church crossed a threshold. It outgrew him. Harold was unaware of some basic truths about himself, for example, his tendency to micromanage at the same time that he resisted accountability. The first problem drove his staff crazy and led to constant turnover that greatly reduced his congregation's capacity to sustain ministry momentum. The second shortcoming-his unwillingness to be accountable-eventually got him in hot water with the church's key leaders. When the church was small, Harold could make unilateral, on-the-fly decisions. But when the church numbered hundreds, with dozens of leaders involved and vested in their own ministries, Harold's decisions rippled out into unanticipated consequences. Eventually, his shortcomings caught up with Harold. Leaders and many in the congregation questioned his credibility and lost trust in him. Eventually, attendance and membership began to decline. Harold was bewildered by this turn of events in his ministry. He knew it wasn't working anymore, but he didn't know why. Yet he plunged ahead, doing all the wrong things. In his frustration, Harold began making even more decisions on his own, adopted a more frenetic pace, and became more anxious and demanding-all of which alienated even more people who could have been great partners. His own fears about his ineffectiveness and what was going on in the church translated into a refusal to receive feedback, which drove him into a corner and accelerated his demise as a leader. Harold was suffering from a lack of self-awareness. And the costs of that deficit bankrupted his leadership. Jim closed the door to his office, just as he did every day, but not so he could concentrate, or study, or pray. He closed the door so he could sleep. He slept for hours every day, but he never felt rested. Eventually, Jim recognized that he was depressed. He contacted his internist for a physical, then for a referral to a counselor. He also engaged a spiritual director. After a few weeks, Jim made the courageous decision to secure a sabbatical from his elders so he could concentrate his energies on exploring some personal demons that were threatening to destroy him, his family, and his ministry. Jim took a very intentional journey of self-discovery. Some months later, Jim returned to his leadership responsibilities armed with new insights into himself. He established new accountabilities and boundaries for his life that were designed to protect him from a relapse of his emotional exhaustion. He implemented a new team structure, demonstrating his decision to trust other people with the church's ministry. His leadership, now vastly improved, guided the church into renewal. Jim went from being a leader on the way down to a leader determined to be great. His increased self-awareness set the stage for this transition.

The single most important piece of information a leader possesses is self-awareness. The dictionary uses a variety of words to portray the meaning of awareness: knowledge, mindful, vigilance, conscious, alert, to note a few. When you add the word self to these, you get a good idea of what self-awareness includes: self-knowledge (knowing who you are), self-mindfulness (understanding your motives for doing what you do), self-vigilance (knowing what makes you tick and what ticks you off!), self-consciousness (knowing how you come across to others), and self-alertness (maintaining your emotional, physical, and spiritual condition). The discipline of self-awareness, then, is the leader's intentional quest for self-understanding.

The hazards for leaders of not being self-aware are serious and can even be deadly. Without this insight into themselves and their behavior and motivations, leaders become subject to unknown or underappreciated forces that influence their actions and that can sabotage their work. Without appropriate self-awareness, hidden addictions or compulsions may guide leaders to behaviors that create huge problems and may dismay, exasperate, and bewilder those they lead. Leaders who operate without self-awareness run the risk of being blindsided by destructive impulses and confused by emotions that threaten to derail their agenda and leadership effectiveness. They may overestimate or underestimate their abilities and respond unpredictably. For followers, credibility rides or falls on consistency-something leaders short on self-awareness usually do not have. In short, leaders lacking self-awareness are besieged from within. They often are their own worst enemy. And they don't even know it!

On the other hand, leaders who know themselves have gained their best ally-themselves! Self-awareness gifts them with significant insight. They know why they are on the planet and what contribution they intend to make-and they are in hot pursuit of making it. They know the behaviors and values that support their mission. They know how to measure their success. They know what they bring to the table in terms of talent and abilities. They know what they don't know, so they are constantly pushing their learning in strategic areas that support their personal growth and missional effectiveness.

Self-awareness touches all the other disciplines because it is foundational to every other element of greatness. Interestingly, it is also the capstone of the leader's journey. At the end of the road, great leaders are intimately acquainted with themselves. What's more, they are at home with themselves. This stands in sharp contrast to the legion of leaders who are attempting their assignment with nobody home.

The Self-Awareness of Biblical Leaders

Leaders in the Bible frequently reflect a high degree of self-understanding.


David demonstrates the power of self-awareness in establishing and protecting a personal sense of identity. He calls himself "the Lord's anointed." This phrase obviously called to mind the mysterious episode in David's childhood when Samuel, the prophet, showed up at his home and anointed him as the future king of Israel.

This phrase-the Lord's anointed-both captured and reflected a core understanding that David had of himself: he was the Lord's anointed, not just Samuel's. This meant he had a special relationship with God. One cannot read David's psalms without encountering this conviction. Psalm 23 details the care of the Shepherd-God for the shepherd-king. Psalm 139 rehearses the extraordinary connections between David and God, beginning in the womb and throughout his life (his thoughts, his words, his physical location-even his sleep!). The confessions of Psalm 51 reflect that David considered his relationship to God to be more important than his pride. It frightened him that his sin might rupture this special connection, so he pleaded for God's continued presence and restoration.


Paul's autobiographical statements in Philippians 3 reveal how self-awareness can integrate key components of a leader's life. The apostle's sense of self was composed of his Jewish roots, his early training as a Pharisee, his passionate nature, and his hunger for significance. He admitted to the impact of his family of origin ("of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews," v. 5). He acknowledged his early blindness to Christ ("in regard to the law, a Pharisee," v. 5). The apostle did this without disparaging the underlying heart hunger that drove him to devour the law. That unsatisfied appetite was finally satisfied in his relationship with Jesus.

Paul knew what he was after in life ("the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus," v. 14). He had obviously nurtured a personal vision of what Jesus had foreseen that he could be when the Lord captured him on the road to Damascus. Paul's sense of self was radically and forever altered in the dust, darkness, and light of that experience.

The persecutor-turned-missionary stamped the entire Christian movement with a missionary fervor. This zeal flowed directly out of Paul's understanding of God's merciful and relentless heart for him, even when he was God's enemy. We know a God of grace partly because Paul knew a gracious God. The converted Pharisee was willing to rethink his monocultural worldview. This dynamic enabled the movement to spread cross-culturally under Paul's leadership.


Even Jesus had to grow in self-awareness. He evidenced an emerging self-understanding in his Temple visit at age twelve. He seemed to be coming to grips with his unique relationship with his Father. We can only imagine what triggered Jesus' realization that he was profoundly different from all the other boys and girls. Surely, his parents' recitation of the events surrounding his birth contributed to his understanding. However, Jesus had to explore these insights for himself, as would any human child.

Perhaps his cousin John's outburst at his public baptism ("look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," John 1:26, NIV), coupled with the voice from heaven, were the moments when Jesus crystallized his ideas about who he was and the nature of his mission. In the wilderness temptations that immediately followed Jesus' baptism, Satan challenged key aspects of Jesus' personhood. He attacked Jesus' trust and dependence on his Father (by asking him to turn stones to bread), urged him to gain notoriety without service (by inviting him to leap from the Temple), and offered him power and glory that avoided suffering and sacrifice (if he would acknowledge Satan as earth's ruler). Each of these temptations targeted a critical aspect of Jesus' realization of the nature and cost of his messianic identity and mission.

Jesus' public ministry and passion provide many instances of his self-awareness. Two examples, one from his early ministry and one from the last days, reflect Jesus' profound self-understanding. Early on, Jesus quizzed his disciples about what people were saying about him. Then he quizzed them to see if they could get it right.

"Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the son of the living God.' Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven'" (Matthew 16:16-17, NIV). At the end, Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reflected a full sense of who he was ("Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you" [John 17:1]), where he had come from, and where he was going ("And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" [John 17:5, NIV]).

Any less self-knowledge would have made it impossible for Jesus to endure the spiritual and physical agony of the cross.

These three leaders-David, Paul, and Jesus-certainly qualify for inclusion on anyone's list of great leaders. The foundation for their life achievements was dug and poured in their self-awareness. That is still today how great leaders secure their leadership.

But how do leaders go about improving their self-awareness? They do some serious investigating.

Digging into Who You Are

None of us can cultivate self-awareness without understanding how we've become who we are. Gaining insight into who we are and how we became ourselves requires some serious digging and inspection, much the way an archaeologist unearths the origins and artifacts of ancient civilization by excavating long-buried ruins. Leaders who want to foster greater self-awareness likewise need to reveal and understand the sources of their own identities, particularly their family of origin and its legacy and the significant personal experiences that have marked and shaped them.

Your Family of Origin

We learn our first life lessons in our family of origin, then we spend the rest of our lives either building on these lessons or trying to overcome them. We learn whether we are blessed or not well before we can speak. We learn whether we are safe or violated well before we can express the ideas of security and boundaries. These lessons, attitudes, and behaviors are so deeply imprinted on our psyches that it often takes years for us even to know they are there and what their content is; they just feel normal, whatever they are. They are the warp and woof of who we are.

For most people, the most intense years of exploring family-of-origin issues tend to be in the twenties and thirties, sometimes all the way through the mid-forties. During this period, leaders have to achieve enough independence and separation from their family of origin to gain perspective on where their journeys have taken them. Still, a learning leader never stops gaining and integrating insights from the past throughout life. It's never too late to begin this journey for personal development and growth. The problem is that some spiritual leaders never book this trip.

Great leaders distinguish themselves by hitting the trail of self-exploration early and being unrelenting in searching for clues to their own formation. They are not afraid to push into uncharted territory, even when the road seems fraught with danger. They are determined not to let their past govern their present. Intriguingly, the only way they can free themselves from the past is to explore it fully. Otherwise, leaders are dragging stuff around in their suitcases that they didn't pack and may not even know is there.

Leaders who do not excavate the family-of-origin site may miss some key personal insights that carry huge implications for their relationship skills. Communication patterns, capacity for intimacy, conflict-resolution skills, view of authority-all enormously important behaviors and attitudes in determining how we relate and respond to others-are initially formed and informed in our earliest years. Since leadership is mostly about managing relationships, this self-understanding proves crucial to leaders' effectiveness. Without this understanding, leaders might not know what is pushing their hot buttons or jerking their chain, so they condemn themselves to react to unidentified forces rather than to be in control of themselves.

Billy frequently lashed out in anger when anyone criticized him. As a result he created lots of problems for himself in terms of broken relationships. Even people who were Billy's friends found it difficult to make suggestions, lest they be dropped from the list of people he could "trust." Consequently, the leadership culture around Billy could best be characterized as a revolving door, where people cycled in and out. The problem was, they left bleeding. Only in marital counseling did Billy come to understand why he experienced such anger when challenged or confronted. He learned that his anger was a secondary emotional response to the primal emotion of fear.

The therapist helped Billy unearth the hidden secret to his flash-hot responses. As a kid Billy's mistakes or shortcomings were ridiculed and punished, often including physical whippings. He had learned to be afraid when he failed. Now years removed from that setting, the slightest hint of failure triggered his fear. Since Billy felt threatened, he fought back with his anger. Billy's "dig" into his family of origin armed him with a new awareness that allowed him to choose his responses rather than let his reactions be triggered by forces he did not comprehend.



Look for similar products by Subject