Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham

Book Review: Harold Myra & Marshall Shelley, "The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham" Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 348 pages.

This book was written as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Christianity Today International, an organization which began largely due to the inspiration and vision of Billy Graham. It set about to explore what made Billy Graham so successful as a leader for such a long time. He has been on the international stage since the 1940's and is one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. I read the book to see what I could glean from a man who has stood the test of time and still holds the respect of world leaders and the common man.

The book is split up into six parts:
Part 1 - Coming Alive
Part 2 - Getting Started
Part 3 - Creating Momentum
Part 4 - Growing Through Fire and Ice
Part 5 - Multiplying Momentum
Part 6 - Deepening In Every Decade

Rather than explore each of the 21 chapters, which would take up too much space, I'll deal with each of the six parts. Each part, I believe, represents a stage which each leader will go through if they are to have lasting success.

Part 1 - Coming Alive. This is the shortest section, consisting of only one chapter, called "Igniting." It is appropriately titled, describing the "call to ministry" and early defining moments of an ordinary young man from Charlotte, North Carolina. What is noteworthy is not simply Billy's willingness to go wherever he felt that God would lead him, but his continued humility and openness to continually allow God to change him as necessary. His early years marked a growing willingness to confront his own prejudices and to stand firm in the face of the criticism of those who felt that he was compromising. He firmly believed that, in moving forward in obedience he would naturally have to face hardship. Sherwood Wirt, longtime editor of "Decision" magazine, wrote that "All attempts to explain Billy Graham fail unless they begin at the cross."

Part 2 - Getting Started. This section deals with four factors which were key in Billy Graham establishing the trajectory for a lifetime of successful ministry. They are: Forming The Team, Confronting Temptation, Lasering In on the Mission, and Loving Harsh Critics. At the end of each cchapter is a section on application.

As John Maxwell writes, "To collaborative team members, completing one another is more important than competing with one another." Billy carefully selected those who would work closest to him; he pursued them, asked for a commitment, and most of them stayed with him throughout his active ministry - an incredible accomplishment seeing it lasted 60+ years. While many see Billy Graham, few see the committed group that he placed around himself who, while capable in their own right, allowed him to shine. He also had to develop the character to keep his heart pure and his reputation intact. This was vital for a ministry which lasted more than half a century. Not only that, but he had to learn to say "no" to the many "good things" that could have distracted him from his purpose, including offers from Hollywood and Washington. Finally, he had to learn how to handle the inevitable criticism. His humility allowed him to learn from even the harshest critics and, often, to turn enemies into friends.

Favorite quote: "Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you, especially those temptations that either your company or your business will lay before you." - Richard Baxter

Part 3 - Creating Momentum. This section deals with four keys to creating momentum. They are: Communicating Optimism and Hope, Mobilizing Money, Empowering Soul Mates and Expanding the Growing Edge.

As Napoloen said, "Leaders are dealers in hope." When looking from a distance at larger-than-life leaders like Billy Graham, we tend to believe that everything came easily. This, of course, is not the case. Every ministry, business or career has struggles. A positive attitude is essential to lead a team to overcome. Realizing that almost every time that Billy preached a crusade he used stadiums whose rent costs were in the millions of dollars, he had to learn to be proactive in fundraising. He was successful, partly because of the high degree of accountability. Billy Graham helped to establish an organization (The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) to help Christian ministries like his to maintain the highest financial standards. As the ministry grew larger in its scope, Billy had to learn to release more and more responsibility into the capable hands of the team he assembled. He was a master at helping others find their place and reach their potential. Billy was also not one to run from the challenge of a changing world. He was one of the first to integrate his rallies in the South, at risk to his reputation. He also took the lead in adapting new methodologies to communicate Biblical truth, staying relevant to new generations of people worldwide.

Favorite quote: "In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." - Harry S. Truman

Part 4 - Growing Through Fire and Ice. This section is broken into four parts that deal with how Billy Graham responded to the troubles and challenges he faced in his ministry. They are: Summoning Courage, Learning from Failure, Experiencing Trauma and Betrayal and Redeeming the Ego.

What do you do when faced with an unpopular choice? Billy Graham had to learn to brave attacks from the press, government officials and sometimes even disagreement among his own team. He had to learn how to have the courage of his convictions. He also had to learn from his failures of judgment, from which Billy suffered early in his career. One of the most difficult things to endure is the betrayal of a friend; Billy felt the pain when Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency and Billy discovered that he had been deceived. In spite of the public embarassment, he was able to forgive and continue to minister to the family. One of the main reasons I believe that Billy Graham was successful was that his confidence was based in Christ, so his ego was held in check. He knew that it wasn't about him.

Favorite quote: "Mishaps are like knives that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle." - Herman Melville

Part 5 - Multiplying Momentum. This describes four ways in which Billy Graham was able to successfully expand his ministry throughout its sixty years. They are: Birthing Dreams, Building Bridges, Igniting Other Leaders, and Sowing Seeds in All Seasons.

When Billy heard about worthwhile visions, he leant his considerable influence to help get them off the ground. These include World Vision, Christianity Today, and the International Congress on World Evangelization. According to Dr. Robert Evans, founder of Greater Europe Mission, Graham was responsible, either directly or indirectly for the start-up of twenty-five evangelical organizations in Europe alone. In a time when the church was extremely divided, Billy Graham built bridges between liberals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants and across racial, cultural and social barriers. One of a leaders greatest gifts is to pass the baton, Billy has done that with many younger leaders, mentoring, encouraging and supporting. People like Jay Kesler, formerly of Youth For Christ, Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church, Ravi Zacharias, a noted apologist, and countless other leaders around the world have been profoundly influenced by him. Throughout his ministry Billy Graham has taken the time to plant seeds which may never see fruition in his lifetime.

Favorite quote: "Life is not just a few years to spend in self-indulgence and career advancement. It is a privilege, a responsibility, a stewardship to be lived according to a much higher calling." - Elizabeth Dole

Part 6 - Deepening In Every Decade. This last section has four chapters on how Billy was able to last. They are: Learning - and Leveraging Weaknesses, Plugging into Continuous Voltage, Innovating, and Leading with Love.

Billy Graham is remarkable in his humility. Admitting he is not a great preacher, he leveraged that by inviting input from people all over the world who could help him have insight into the different cultures to help him stay relevant. This trait also helped him to get the best out of his team. Billy also recognized that without God he was nothing. Each day he spends hours in prayer and in reading the Bible. It keeps his heart soft and his ears open to hear God. Perhaps because of this, Billy was always open to integrating new techniques and technologies into his ministry.

The final chapter - Leading With Love - deals with what close observers believe is the key to the success of Billy Graham. He loves people, pure and simple. He takes time for people, regardless of who they are. His concern is genuine. He reached out to Jim Bakker after his much-publicized moral failure. He reached out in love to Muslims after 9-11. He took the time to get to know the family members of his staff and gave sacrifically to help others. He lead by example.

Favorite quote: "I have learned that although Christians do not always agree, they can disagree agreeably, and that what is most needed in the church today is for us to show an unbelieving world that we love one another." - Billy Graham

Conclusion: All in all it's a good read. It's not so much a leadership tome as it is a tribute to Dr. Graham. It does provide tremendous insight into the leadership longevity of one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

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