Book Review: “Chief” by Paul Seger (2013)

“Leadership Lessons from a Village in Africa”

Image result for paul seger chief bookPaul Seger, Director of the missions agency Biblical Ministries Worldwide (headquartered in Lawrenceville, GA), offers a unique take on the topic of leadership in his book, Chief. Taking twenty illustrations from African village-life and nature, he develops each concept into a timeless leadership principle and shows how each has also been clearly taught for generations already in the Word of God. Having grown up in a Saharan village himself, Seger appears to have a vast understanding of primitive life in action, and yet has also grown into a world-wise leader who now recognizes that, even in those backwoods situations, such unlearned tribal leaders as the ones he describes naturally understood the most effective ways to lead their people.

Seger tackles such popular leadership principles as servant-leadership and vision-casting, but also touches on other, less-mainstream principles, such as lifelong learning, anticipation of trends, defining reality, and the power of simplicity. While he claims that yes, another book on leadership in necessary “to simplify the topic” (vi), one could argue that twenty chapters covering twenty principles appears to muck things up more than not. Nevertheless, his points are well-made, and one could certainly argue that Jesus Himself exemplified each of these principles at one time or another during his ministry.

Many of Seger’s illustrations are fascinating for their cultural or naturalistic uniqueness, though his Chapter 12: “Pushing Boulders” stands out as especially poignant. In order to describe the importance of values, he relates an experience from his childhood, when he and a friend would climb the giant, smooth mesas in the desert only to find giant boulders standing precariously near the edges. The children enjoyed pushing these boulders off the cliffs to watch them crash into the pathways below, until a local man hurriedly ventured up the mesa despite the danger to scold them wildly for their carelessness. As it turned out, these boulders had been placed up there generations ago as a means of protecting the villagers from potential slave-traders come to the steal them all away. Not only had the children been desecrating the memory of the fearful villagers who had once painstakingly carried these boulders uphill to protect their families, they had also carelessly destroyed that village’s own future defenses against other possible kidnappers. What was a stupid rock and a mere game to a child was instead a matter of life and death to full generations of Africans. Quite a tale and quite an illustration on values that will stick me for a long time to come!

I especially appreciated Seger’s chapter conclusions, each headed with the African phrase, “Ga fili Ga doki,” which carries the concept of “Now go do something with what you’ve learned.” I felt that this portion of each chapter allowed for genuine interaction with the text and with the lessons taught. I purposefully engaged with many of his summary and application questions and feel like I’ve improved as a leader because of it.

While a reprint of Chief could use some further trimming and editorial work (to take out all the repetition), I think this would be an excellent book for those aspiring to be leaders, particularly in ministry. Oftentimes, Pastors and Missionaries are trained in how to study and teach, but not necessarily in how to lead. If that’s the case for you, realize that leadership must most often be learned. It rarely comes naturally, and having Chief, a solid book of biblical principles, as your guide is about the best thing you could hope for!

I close with just a short list of quotations from the book that I found most helpful or inspiring:

  • “A leader is a godly servant who knows where he is going and inspires and equips others to follow.” (BMW’s definition of “leader”, xi)
  • “The key to successful leadership today is influence not authority” (Paul Blanchard)…”A title does not make you a leader.” (4)
  • “Every leader needs someone to help lift the lid off his own limitations.” (17)
  • “Everyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty of eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” (Henry Ford, 21)
  • “Plan—but make sure that all plans are written in pencil, acknowledging that God has an eraser.” (42)
  • “When a team has problems, someone is probably not acting like Jesus.” (54)
  • “The most corrupt leaders still wants people of character around him, people whome can trust.” (116)
  • “Everyone’s responsibility becomes no one’s job.” (163)

©2016 E.T.

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