Book Review: The Power of Team Leadership by George Barna
George Barna is a firm believer in the benefits and successes of a team over an individual. In his book, The Power of Team Leadership, Barna describes the many strengths of a ministry led by team leadership as opposed to an individual. Many stories in the Bible serve as great examples of God accomplishing things through teams and communities, or with individuals strongly supported by other believers. Those leaders that try to lead alone often struggle because they cannot avoid the pitfalls of their personality and leadership style weaknesses.
In the early parts of his book, Barna presents the idea of unrealistic expectations on our leaders. We often set our leaders up for failure due to the expectations we place on them as individuals. We often forget that our leaders are sinful, imperfect individuals just like ourselves. These leaders have limitations and struggles as well, and if they are expected to lead alone, these shortcomings will be more evident. On the other hand, if you surround a leader with other capable individuals, these weaknesses can be avoided through the strengths of others. As opposed to individual leadership, Barna believes “Leadership works best when it is provided by teams of gifted leaders serving together in pursuit of a clear and compelling vision.”1
In one of his chapters, Barna outlines some of the most common hindrances or reasons why churches and leaders do not model team leadership. Some of the more common are the desire for simplicity and efficiency, need for control or personal significance, or simply because of tradition (it’s how the work has always been done).2 At face value, team leadership seems more complex or difficult, but after applying it, one can see the great advantage that team leadership has over solo leadership.
One of the greatest endorsements for team leadership is removing any reliance on a “superhero” leader. Too often, churches or groups unsuccessfully look for the perfect leader with every needed quality, skill, and ability. The team leadership model removes this need for an all-encompassing leader, and allows for average, everyday people to form a leadership team that is very effective.
Simply adding numbers to a leadership team will not guarantee success. In order to have an effective leadership group, the proper members need to be recruited. Barna mentions three essential components of recruiting the proper leaders: 1) they are called by God, 2) they have Godly character, and 3) they possess the competencies to help the group lead.3 Furthermore, the leadership group should be comprised of complementary talents and abilities in order to form a group with few collective weaknesses and a group that works well together.
In regard to the complementary talents and abilities, Barna lays out four main leadership aptitudes that are critical for forming the complete leadership package. To accomplish this task, groups, churches, etc. must enlist leaders with different aptitudes rather than those with similar ones. The four types of leaders needed are a directing leader, strategic leader, team-building leader, and an operational leader. Leadership teams and groups that find the right people to fill these various leadership roles are much more likely to succeed.
1. George Barna, The Power of Team Leadership (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2001), 8.
2. Ibid, 64-72.
3. Ibid, 84.
The Power of Team Leadership
The event/story that immediately came to mind after reading the requirements for this section were revolving around my church youth pastor and youth group from high school. When I was a sophomore in high school, my church hired a new youth pastor. We quickly became close as he mentored me and encouraged spiritual growth in my life. He quickly turned a small, uninterested group of students into a large, healthy, alive and growing youth group. All in all, I felt he was an extremely gifted youth pastor. One day, he shared with me that he felt he wasn’t the right person to be leading the youth group. He shared how planning for messages completely drained him every week. Preparation for a single thirty-minute message on a Wednesday night would take him two full days of work. Then after speaking Wednesday, he would immediately start preparing for Sunday morning. Amidst all of this, he had to plan activities and outings and events.
What we soon came to realize was that his skills and abilities were in organizing events, mentoring students, long-term planning of the youth group and its growth and spiritual health. His weakness was preparing messages, and he had little desire or passion for this. The church did a wonderful thing, and added another youth pastor to the leadership of the church. This youth pastor was mostly responsible for speaking and curriculum (for both middle school and high school now). This allowed Josh, the current youth pastor, to focus on his strengths and continue to form outreach programs, missions trips, outings, and plan events.
The outcome was amazing. An already growing youth group exploded. Two complementary youth pastors were able to work together, using their differing talents and abilities and do amazing things with the youth, all to the glory of God. Most churches would expect (and do expect) one youth pastor to hold all the keys to a successful youth group. Too often, there is quick burnout among youth pastors because they don’t have all the needed talents and abilities and are unable to live up to those high expectations.
I truly agreed with almost everything Barna stated in the book. Having said that, I don’t know that any of this information was new or revolutionary. Though very little, if any, of this text was new or revolutionary, it was still very insightful and beneficial. The issue with churches and ministries today is not a lack of information, but rather a lack of application or lack of willingness to change. With a plethora of practical and useful information on teamwork and leadership, I am confused why more churches and groups don’t use or apply this information.
Though I agree that a team is the ideal situation, there are instances where a team may not be the feasible option. Obviously, Barna would have weakened his points if he had acknowledged this or discussed it in any length during his book. I am still curious as to what specific situations this might apply to in leadership. At what point does a certain group or leader decide he will be the one making the decisions? Furthermore, time constraints and efficiency are a few reasons ministries or groups don’t utilize team leadership; the more people involved in a decision, usually the longer it takes. I wish Barna would have discussed this factor more and possibly suggested effective ways to minimize this concern.
Sometimes books such as this present a rosy picture of how things can and should work when everything goes well. The reality, though, is that forming an effective leadership team is quite difficult; there are many bumps and hindrances on the way. Presenting too much of a rosy picture might frustrate groups that are trying to form these teams because they will constantly be running into various issues and setbacks. I know when I read books similar to this, I am quick to wonder why things aren’t working for me the way it seems it should be working according to whatever I am reading. I assume others might have this same feeling when trying to accomplish team leadership.
Barna, George. The Power of Team Leadership: Finding Strength in Shared Responsibility. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2001.