5 Keys to Growing New Leaders

Leadership potential exists in almost every person, but people’s capacity to lead will vary greatly. Their development will be a unique journey, one which requires five dimensions to be addressed. These will define the SCOPE of someone’s ultimate influence, which matters greatly for existing Christian leaders for whom the development of others is a core practice of great importance.

1. Strengths. These may differ from biblical spiritual gifts, ones which may simply be lacking if they are not first sought (1 Corinthians 14:1). After all, how does someone know they don’t have a spiritual gift if they have seldom, if ever, tried to use or develop it?! Natural gifts, though, are a different matter. We are all wired differently and have innate, God-given capabilities. A sportsperson demonstrating coordination or fluent strokeplay, or a musician with feeling and sensitivity, will display more than a set of learned skills. Natural aptitude, though, still needs the complementary work of the Spirit’s supernatural empowerment within life’s leadership moments.

Marcus Buckingham, New York Times bestselling author of Stand Out 2.0, advocates achieving success by playing to your strengths. Don Clifton’s Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment, by the Gallup organisation, offers an online discovery of your top five strengths which shape the unique approach you bring to leadership, one that should be celebrated.

None of this means we don’t work on our weaknesses, but our strengths can be significant and available resources for God to use. These are grown as part of our commitment to leadership excellence. As Romans 12:8 says, those who lead should do so diligently. This need applies to almost everyone, since almost everyone will influence people, despite differing degrees of that influence and of personal experiences and capacities.

2. Character. Integrity needs to be lived, not idealised. It is regulated by a conscience that has to be shaped. The conscience can be “seared” (1 Timothy 4:2) by unhealthy behaviours, but it can also be conditioned by renewing the mind using godly principles (Romans 12:2). Prospective leaders are often treated as if optimised character is presumed to exist, even though many will selectively adapt life choices to socialised ethics and relativised morality. Mentors necessarily challenge those they lead to be responsive to what it is that God says in this regard, and not simply to what seems right.

Many prospective leaders will rightly focus on growing their leadership skills or maximising their relational influence. But if character does not become a strong base on which to build competence, then leadership capacity will be limited. Our character always finds us out since it is the foundation of any enterprise of lasting significance.

A useful book offering a character inventory and which can be used with prospective leaders is Uprising, by Erwin McManus. Even the use of selected passages can be helpful for those less inclined to read. Of course, complementing its use by zeroing in on key biblical texts will help to ensure that character growth for leadership strength stays front and centre in discipleship-based discussions.

3. Orientation. One’s posture toward God, whether measured by fidelity to Scripture, prayerfulness, servanthood, or availability, provides an indication of likely success. Logically, someone who is talented but not tested, eager but not available, and competent without being spiritual, will limit their own fruitfulness. Sometimes, areas of lack are related to seasonal pressures but, these more typically reflect a reluctance to be intentionally available to what God is saying and doing, something a mentor may help identify.

Many people are sadly reticent to adopt the privilege of leadership. For some, the requirements are too onerous. For others life offers other tempting or urgent priorities. Leading is, to at least some degree, an inevitable requirement of being a committed follower of Christ. To make disciples, as Jesus requires, is to influence people. This necessarily requires us to lead them.

The burden to lead is often reduced by focusing not on our lack, but on what we are in the process of becoming because of Christ who is in us, without the pressure to have already arrived. Saying our “yes” to God’s challenge to influence others, and not simply to what people might require of us, is about advancing our responsiveness one step of obedience at a time.

4. Passion. John Wesley supposedly said that if you catch on fire with enthusiasm, people will come for miles to watch you burn. Leading with passion is proactive and inspiring, but it needs to flow from a heart that is devoted to God, so that it is not simply an expense of energy or the pursuit of an interest. However, it is out of the abundance of the heart that our mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) and our talk therefore betrays our interests.

New leaders will have a particular flair and charisma that reflects the work of God in their lives and that can uniquely inspire others. They also have interests and abilities that God can breathe into life, to be harnessed for impacting others. Passion is compelling and spiritual vitality engenders it.

For those who are more reserved, passion may be expressed somewhat differently, but its absence will usually mean that strengths, character and orientation which render a person of potential available for leadership produce minimal impact. To ignite others, a fire needs to first burn in the heart of a leader who is a Spirit-filled conduit of God-given passion for people. This will be evident in their conduct and their speech.

5. Experience. What people have done or seen in life can inform or assist their service of others. Clearly, employment and training can position people to adapt key skills for maximum impact. Smaller steps of faithful service can lead more naturally to bigger opportunities to help others, too.

Even negative experiences which could have a hook in the heart of a potential leader and restrict their growth, are able to be redeemed, offering a seed of hope for others. As God’s grace turns situations around, these can be powerful reminders of forgiveness and instructive moments that help to walk others through the seasons of difficulty that they face.

Finally, these five areas defining the SCOPE of people’s influence are seldom addressed in sequence. They merely offer a context for growth. People will initially come as they are to God, but He clearly prompts the development of strengths, the refining of character, the attitude of orientation, the channelling of passion, and the tapping of experience for the betterment of others.

This is where existing leaders can play a vital role in lovingly prompting responsiveness to God in others they influence toward leadership. A ‘tap on the shoulder,’ a prophetic encouragement, and intentionally doing life with others, can foster mentoring relationships in which potential leaders become responsive to the very guidance that will help to realise their potential.

Of course, being helped and helping others needs truthful, transparent and trusting relationships, ones that consciously affirm the best interests of the people concerned and then take their growth to God. Where necessary, these purposefully and ultimately help to confront short-term personal pain for long-term leadership gain.

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