Lessons for the Next Generation Leader

Bill Helwig

Criminal District Attorney in Yoakum County

If you are an elected prosecutor, lead prosecutor, section chief, or manager of a unit within the office, Next Generation Leader is a must-read. Author Andy Stanley provides not only a challenge to view your style of leadership but also a refresher course in how to do it.
    Written by the son of a nationally recognized evangelical leader, the book is dissected into five components: competence, courage, clarity, coaching, and character. Stanley dedicates an entire section to each component and includes clear and inspiring stories and examples to prove his points. He resists the temptation to make it only a religious book, providing both secular and faith-based support for the five components of leadership.
     While a central theme is the duty to train the next generation of leaders—that is, our younger colleagues—it is notable that we are directed to “do less” and focus more on our leadership. Current leaders cannot and should not “do it all.” Stanley asserts that we should focus on what each individual can do best and delegate more to subordinates—with this caveat: Both what we do and what we delegate should be done with courage in the face of all types of adversity; our delegation also requires clarity and specificity. That way, subordinate colleagues see us leading by example and know the specific expectations of a clearly defined mission. Following this practice means that new leaders in an office are identified and given the chance to shine at a given task—they might even do something better than their leaders!
    The “coaching” component especially spoke to me. As I read the section, memories were stirred and appreciation renewed as I recalled those great prosecutors who took time and interest to offer tips and recommendations in my early years, as well as now. Certainly, much can be gained through having a personal coach or mentor. While it may be challenging to get the commissioners court to approve such a line item in the budget, mentors within our prosecutorial community can be easily found (and often for free!). Usually all it takes is a request, a reciprocal friendship, and availability.
    Using many personal examples in his evolution as a church pastor, including leading a mega-church, Stanley builds a strong case for a leader to create an environment of mentors (or “constructive critics,” as he calls them) who can be frank, honest, and forthright with those around them. “Get a coach and you will never stop improving. Become a coach and ensure the improvement of those around you,” he writes—such a strong quote has stuck with me. Not only do I understand the good and proper duty to coach, but I was very much renewed in the personal satisfaction of growing through benevolent criticism and coaching.
    Perhaps most importantly, Next Generation Leader contrasts “leadership by authority” with “leadership by character.” Those who are leaders by authority exist purely by position, rank, or elected office, and there are plenty such leaders. But the authority or power to lead is a far cry from moral authority to lead—moral authority has to do with a leader’s character. The book’s last chapter tackles the fifth component, character, and reminds readers of the pitfalls of power and how we may diminish, erode, and destroy our leadership authority through character lapse or compromise. We’ve all seen it happen, and this captivating chapter is a good reminder of how it happens. Reading, studying, and committing to the principles of this chapter can help us all avoid the trap and destruction caused by failures in character. This thought-provoking section alone is worth the time and money invested in buying and reading the book.
    Next Generation Leader should be positioned near your desk so that you can pick it up at least once a quarter to review and reconsider its significant points. The lessons and reminders in this book do not lose value over time. In fact, they increase in value and importance because as we move forward in our leadership experience, the temptations to ignore and forget such lessons are greater. Taking its lessons to heart could lead to a better office, better rest, and keeping your job or title longer.

Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley, Published by Multnomah, 2006.