Never Blink in a Hailstorm by McKenna

Leadership studies have become a significant sub-discipline in recent years and rightly so. Leadership is absolutely central to the success of any organization or endeavour. The danger of some of these studies is that they emanate from a purely theoretical perspective. Only those who have known the rigours of leadership are really qualified to talk about it. David L. McKenna’s Never Blink in a Hailstorm and Other Lessons on Leadership (Baker, 2005) is by a man who knows the contours and challenges of leadership. McKenna was the youngest college president in the United States of his day and later served as the president of a number of other schools in his career, including Asbury Theological Seminary. In total, he has spent fifty years in education and leadership ventures.

The fourteen chapters are organized around time-tested maxims—such things as “Never Go Solo,” “Never Steal a Paper Clip,” “Never Expect Thanks” and the title of the book—and purposely seek to be a means of mentoring leaders. McKenna rightly states that by “recognizing that past leaders have something unique to contribute to future leaders, mentoring is a direct repudiation of a secular and postmodern mind-set” (p.12). He also acknowledges memory as a motive for writing the book: “the record of the past needs to be preserved for the time when sound bites fade and celebrities fail” (p.11).

Like every good writer, McKenna has a knack in expressing himself in rich aphorism:

“Management is a science of learned skills; leadership is an art of intuitive sense” (p.15).

“Dependence upon competency is my temptation; dependence upon God is my thirst” (p.29).

“Human beings make symbols; great leaders master them” (p.113).

And while willing to learn from secular discussions of leadership—McKenna can say “astute leaders are students of culture” (p.113)—he unabashedly gives the reader a Christian model of what leadership is about. Thus, he can affirm, for example: “Unconditional love is the ultimate competency for Christian leadership. It cannot be earned by degrees, conferred through titles, given with awards, or written in books. Competency in unconditional love comes only through utter dependence upon God” (p.29).

After perusing a lot of secular material on the art of leadership, I found the book a refreshing read and a powerful encouragement to model my leadership on the principles for such found in Holy Writ.