It would be an understatement to say that there is a super-abundance of leadership books in both Christian and general publishing. One wonders if it reflects a perception that there is a dearth of the real thing in our churches and culture, or that if it exists, it is often done very badly. So the question is, what separates Steve Saccone’s book (co-authored with his wife Cheri Saccone) from all the rest?
Very briefly, it is that it is more description, than prescription, of the work Saccone has done in developing leadership through his Protege’ Program, a two year leadership development program. This book is an attempt, without being a program manual, to distill the basic contours of his work.
Saccone begins with the question of what kind of culture leaders are to embody and establish. For him, these are kingdom cultures, cultures that reflect the character of Jesus lived out in churches, organizations, and entrepreneurial efforts. This leads him to focus on five critical elements in his work:
1. Character. What is most striking here is that Saccone identifies four deadly sins that can bring down emerging leaders: envy expressed in imitating others rather than embracing one’s own unique call, self-reliance that emphasizes performance over a life of prayer producing fruit from the inside out, foolishness expressed in over-confidence rather than the seeking of wisdom, and greed which reveals itself in a spirit of entitlement. It is good that Saccone begins here, I think. I’ve seen few leaders really fail for lack of skill. For most, it comes down to questions of character.
2. Relationships. Here Saccone focuses on three tensions in relational leadership: overcommitment versus underdelivering on commitments, avoiding or evoking conflict, and overattaching versus detaching. There was much that was helpful here concerning learning to say no versus letting your yes be yes. His diagnostics for each of these tensions are very helpful to see where one falls.
3. Communication. This was a section that had some intriguing ideas of learning through everything from TED talks to poetry slams about effective communication in 21st century culture. He describes Learning Labs where he challenges people to give five minute talks (Five Good Minutes) and to practice improvisation.
4. Mission. To start, he sees mission not as something we do but something that flows from our relationship with Christ expressed through the uniqueness of each person in the context of local communities of believers in mission. He calls for several shifts in evangelism: 1) From inattentiveness to attentiveness, 2) From monologue to dialogue, 3) From invasion to invitation, 4) From individual conversion to communal conversion, and 5) From temporal understanding to eternal awakening. These last two call for a bit more explanation. Communal conversion is not whole communities coming to faith but the recognition that the community in which one comes to faith crucially shapes one’s life. Eternal awakenings happen when converts connect their lives to the big eternal questions addressed by the gospel–how the gospel lastingly changes everything.
5. Entrepreneurial leadership. His last section focuses on the quality of risk-taking and developing cultures where there is a freedom to fail, where the ultimate value isn’t control and where they develop new structures to unleash the gifts and creativity of those they lead.
Throughout, Saccone provides numerous examples and personal stories of how he works these ideas out in practice. At the conclusion of each chapter are ideas for mentors, and a mentor tip (not always directly related to the chapter content).
The only thing I might make more explicit in this book is that a crucial work of mentors is to help proteges become protege’ developers themselves. Young leaders need to be coached to reflect on their own developmental process and to learn from it how they might in turn develop the next generation of proteges.
What Saccone has given us is a kingdom-oriented, character shaped, and missionally driven account of leadership development that offers, not a program, but a vision for the essential elements of any serious effort at protege’ development.