Developing leaders is a passion for many of us. But the truth is that often, our efforts are not nearly as successful as they should be. I would suggest that there are some reasons for this that we need to grapple with and understand.
Leadership development is not primarily about a classroom experience but that is often how we approach it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most good leadership is caught rather than taught but that goes against the grain of our western educational model which is content heavy. There is no better way to understand good leadership than to see it in action from another good leader. Doing ministry with someone is far better than doing it alone because it gives us an opportunity to have life on life influence. While there are skills and concepts that can be taught, seeing them in action is far more powerful.
Leadership development cannot be outsourced to a staff member: leaders themselves must be actively involved in the process. When people see senior leaders involved in the process of developing younger leaders they pay attention and are far more likely to do the same. When we outsource leadership development to "a staff member" we effectively indicate that it is not important enough for us to get involved. We may need a plan and logistical support but whenever leadership and development efforts do not have the full attention and participation of senior leaders they are likely to be less successful than they could be.
Leadership development that is not backed up by the actual practices and values of the organization will get little traction. People pay attention to what leaders do far more than to what leaders espouse. Perhaps we are jaded by the many values and commitments communicated that are not actually lived out in practice. What is refreshing is to see leaders living out the ethos and culture they talk about. Again, good leadership is more caught than taught.
Leadership development that does not give people a chance to try things and even fail is unlikely to be very fruitful. Most organizations and ministries are failure adverse. Yet if we don't bomb on a few things it is likely that we are not trying very many new ideas. Furthermore, how else do people learn than through trying things and even failing when a plan does not work. Others watch carefully when plans go awry to see if there is grace extended or not. If there is not, there is a high likelihood that others will be cautious rather than bold. Young leaders do fail at some things - even established leaders do.
Leadership development that does not include a significant opportunity for dialogue and discussion is likely to be far less effective than we would desire. This is why simply giving someone a book to read or a class to attend is not likely to produce a good leader. However, development efforts that are rich in dialogue and conversation with proven leaders is far more apt to get you to where you want to go. Dialogue creates far greater understanding than simply sharing information.
Leadership development efforts that are a "one off" are unlikely to be very effective. Leadership development is a process rather than an event. It takes place over time in the company of good leaders. The process gives one time to absorb, understand, see it practiced and even try it themselves. Events can add a piece to the puzzle but in themselves are insufficient to develop really good leadership.
Leadership development efforts that do not pay adequate attention to the inner life of a leader are unlikely to yield healthy leaders. The spiritual, emotional and relational health of leaders is a fundamental requirement for good leadership. If our primary attention is on leadership skills or techniques to the expense of the inner life of a leader we are actually sabotaging ourselves. There is no good leadership without healthy leaders.
All of this presupposes that we are actually serious about developing our leadership bench and that we have a serious plan to get there. The vast majority of Christian organizations I work with do not. Our organization has made it a high priority because we know that we are only as strong as the leadership bench we have.
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