The Extraordinary Leader : Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders by John H. Zenger

Though Zenger and Folkman stated that leadership is developed, they concluded that people must naturally possess basic leadership traits (231). They admit, however, that being born with natural abilities is not enough for one to become a great leader (231). Since one must have natural abilities of leadership first, this last statement seems contrary to their suggestion that people can improve their “leadership outcome” by “deciding to become a great leader” (232).

The authors stressed that strengths, not weaknesses, ought to be improved. Halfway through the book, though, Zenger and Folkman added that “in some cases” improvement of weaknesses was the best place to start (158). They referred to these weaknesses as “fatal flaws,” which they claimed led to “failure in leadership” (160). The effects of “fatal flaws” not only affected the individual, but also the leader’s subordinates (168). To illustrate this occurrence, they recounted a story of the “tyrannical” vice president who had no interpersonal skills. His inapproachability and his inability to accept ideas from others created subordinates who lacked initiative or creativity. Even under the leadership of a new vice president, these individuals could not recover from the effects of being “smothered” by the previous leader (168).

Zenger and Folkman posed several evaluative questions. For instance, one query asked, “Can people really change?” Others include, “Are people truly valuable? Do people possess latent talents and abilities?” and “Is it worth the organization’s investment to help an individual fix a fatal flaw in his or her leadership skills?” (169). This book was not written from an evangelical Christian perspective, and as such, the answer to these questions were oblivious to the fact that people are image bearers of God. The truth is that people are capable of change with God’s help (Matt. 19:26). They are also very valuable to Him, in fact, the Bible is clear about people’s special place in creation: “What is man that You are mindful of him? …For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:4-6).

People are valuable because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Due to the fall, all humans are sinful creatures and in need of redemption (Gen. 3). The expression of an organization’s love is its investment to help an individual “fix a fatal flaw” in his or her leadership skill. This love is reminiscent of God’s love towards mankind. Just as Christ’s death and resurrection offers people a second chance, an organization should offer restoration to an individual.

More so, the bible states, “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (Col. 4:1),” and “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well…If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously… (Romans 12:6-8 NLT).” Becoming a “great leader” encompasses more than working on one’s “fatal flaws” or improving personal weaknesses, a great leader is one who has a servant’s heart and acknowledges God as the Leader of his or her life (Matthew 20:26; John 3:30; 1 Samuel 16:7).

The authors admitted, “Given our current condition, leadership is still nearly impossible to define or describe in detail or specificity” (9). This statement reflected the limitations of human wisdom. The authors failed in their attempt to educate people on how to turn “good managers into great leaders” because despite the numerous knowledgeable reference sources listed in the Endnotes section of the book, without an understanding of God and the Biblical basis of creation, fall, and redemption, no secular book can ever accurately describe true leadership.

The presupposition that people become leaders when they work on their strengths and study the examples of established leaders was accurate, however the authors left out some very crucial points. First, one must follow the leadership patterns of godly men and women (1 Corinthians 11:1), not of those whom are merely great managers. Second, people should work to excel within their God-gifted abilities (1 Corinthians 12). When these two things are accomplished, the result is truly an extraordinary leader.

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

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