Numerous books have been written on leadership over the last several decades. In one sense Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham adds very little new to the discussion. The book reveals no “secrets” as the title denotes. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating book because it illustrates good leadership principles from one of the men that many of us older evangelicals respect the most, Dr. Billy Graham. It was written by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, former executives of Christianity Today International. Their method was to interview many who were close to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to study what was written by Billy Graham and his associates, and to read widely in the field of leadership.
Of course, we think of Billy Graham primarily as an evangelist, not as the CEO of a large organization. However, this book shows us that Billy Graham really was an effective leader with an amazing team around him. In their research the authors discovered twenty-one leadership principles modeled by Graham and his team. Below is a brief description of each one. Whether your leadership is in a church, a Christian organization, a secular company, or just your home, hopefully what I’ve written will motivate you to read this helpful book.
- Igniting: Great leaders are passionate, and passion is forged in the furnace. So it was with Billy Graham – it made him a man of intense resolve and genuine humility.
- Forming the Team: Early on Graham brought together a gifted and committed team of men. They remained together, and they continued to be dynamic for more half a century.
- Confronting the Temptations: The team identified and kept each other accountable in the following areas – the shady handling of money, sexual immorality, badmouthing others doing similar work, and exaggerated accomplishments.
- Lasering In on the Mission: Great leaders know what to reach for, and they stay on course. Graham resisted the temptation to move into other areas of service that were offered to him.
- Loving Harsh Critics: All leaders get criticized. It’s their response to criticism that sets them apart. Graham refused to attack his critics. Sometimes he even turned them into friends.
- Communicating Optimism and Hope: Napoleon said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” Those close to Graham noted that though he was not an optimist by nature, he chose to lead with optimism and hope.
- Mobilizing Money: Billy Graham understood his mission would not succeed without economic vitality, but he never made money his focus, and he always insisted on handling finances with the utmost integrity.
- Empowering Soul Mates: Graham brought good people to his team. He devised the basic strategy and overall direction, but he gave his team members plenty of room to do what they had to do in their particular area of ministry.
- Expanding the Growing Edge: One of the growing edges of American society during Billy Graham’s early years was that of racial equality. As a Southerner he developed his own convictions in this area and stuck by them despite criticism from both sides.
- Summoning Courage: “When leaders take risks and find themselves in the bull’s-eye but deep in the pits, it takes courage to go out and continue to face the assaults. But Billy did.”
- Learning from Failure: Failures and gaffes are inevitable in leadership. Graham made them, but he knew how to take the heat and admit his mistakes.
- Experiencing Trauma and Betrayal: The feeling of being betrayed by President Richard Nixon was the most painful thing Graham endured, but he refused to turn to bitterness or revenge.
- Redeeming the Ego: It is necessary to have a strong ego to lead. However, Graham stayed humble and was not intimidated. As one of friend said, his strong ego to lead was “redeemed.”
- Birthing Dreams: To birth a dream takes lots of recruiting skill. Graham knew how to recruit strong people to advance causes about which he was passionate, i.e. the establishment of Christianity Today and the International Congress for World Evangelization.
- Building Bridges: In contrast to “managers”, strong “leaders” develop relationships outside their organization. Graham definitely knew how to build bridges across denominational and ethnic divides, as well as across the academic and activist worlds.
- Igniting Other Leaders: Billy Graham knew that every new generation is strategic so he made a point of encouraging and mentoring younger evangelical leaders.
- Sowing Seeds in All Seasons: A Christian leader needs to sow seeds in all areas of his life, not just in his direct calling. Graham took time for individuals. He sowed seeds wherever he went.
- Learning – and Leveraging Weaknesses: Billy Graham had a deep sense of his own limitations, but his awareness was turned into a mighty lever.
- Plugging into Continuous Voltage: Graham knew his power did not come from himself. His “prayer connection was not only fervent. It was also as natural to him as breathing.”
- Innovating: Graham always kept his entrepreneurial attitude; he was open to innovation. Through the decades he continued to employ the latest technologies.
- Leading with Love: One of the long term employees of the Billy Graham Association said that “the difference between him and many other leaders is that whatever the circumstances, Billy always led with love.”
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