3 Stages Of Leadership Development. Where Are You?

How does your church develop leaders?

Researchers have discovered that less than 5% of churches have an intentional process for developing leaders. Maybe you have what in my tradition is called 'officer training' for potential elders and deacons but I consider this 'placement,' not development.  The truth is that every church develops leaders; what is lacking in most churches is an intentional process of developing leaders at every level.

Several years ago, it became obvious that our church was part of the 95%. We did not have the leaders that we needed to be responsible to the work that was in front of us. Since then, we have worked hard to design a process that puts us in a position to do the work necessary to live out our mission.  

I am working on a few tweaks to our process based on my consulting work and our experience thus far. During one of my whiteboard sessions, I wrote down the three stages of leadership development that every leader has to walk through. I'd love to share them with you.

1. I Am Responsible For My Development

What did you do last week to improve as a leader?

During a text exchange with an expert in leadership development, he noted that the single biggest reason churches don't develop leaders is because the pastor is not intentionally developing himself. So don't skip over that question.

What did you do last week to improve as a leader?

Think of personal development like building a house: you need a solid foundation before you can add on different levels. The foundation for every leader looks the same. Consider these the Four Corners of Leadership Development:

  • Self-Awareness - Accepting your weaknesses so you can focus your attention on your strengths
  • Responsibility - Taking personal action to reach individual and organizational goals
  • Time Multiplication - Focusing attention on what is significant and provides the greatest return on investment
  • Resilience - Responding to failure with courage and curiosity

With that base underneath a leader, they can climb the ladder of leadership by paying attention to changes in what they value and do as they transition to the next level of leadership. These changes are something that few leaders pay attention to and, consequently, pay the price when they continue to do the work and live out the values of the leadership level they just left behind.

Let me give you an example. A volunteer is asked to take on a new role overseeing a team of volunteers. What happens if that leader does not develop a value for getting work done through others, or the skills necessary to build a healthy team of volunteers? Most likely, that new team leader will continue to value getting work done themselves and fail to invest in the development of their team. 

2. I Will Reproduce Myself

Another reason that leaders are not developed in churches is because leaders do not know how to help someone else become a leader. And in a church culture where most leaders have never been developed by someone else, it makes complete sense that they don't value or know how to reproduce themselves as leaders. So let's nail down some basics of leadership development. Consider these the ABC(DE)s of Leadership Development.

  • Attract - Inviting someone into an intentional process of developing as a leader
  • Build Up - Providing the information someone needs to get started on their leadership journey
  • Connect - Establishing relationships and responsibilities that keep new leaders engaged
  • Design  - Blueprinting a system where leaders are cared for, communicated with, supported and well-trained.
  • Evaluate - Determining what gets measured to ensure that the rest of the system is effective

3. I Will (Help) Build A Leadership Pipeline

A leadership pipeline is a process for growing leaders internally at every level of a church, from volunteer to lead/senior pastor. And while every church should designate one person who is responsible for the pipeline, leaders at every level should contribute to the construction and upkeep of the pipeline.

When it comes to building a pipeline, most churches have the same four pieces that represent the church's leadership levels; size of the church determines whether these are paid or volunteer roles:

  • Leading Self - Responsible for getting work done themselves; in our church these are our Volunteers
  • Leading Others - Responsible for getting work done through individual contributors; in our church these are our Ministry Team Leaders (which is the equivalent of deacons in other churches)
  • Leading Leaders - Responsible for getting work done through those who are leading individuals; in our church this is our Management Team (paid staff)
  • Leading the Church - Responsible for getting work done through those lead the various ministry teams of your church; in our church this is my role as the Lead Pastor.

And while those pieces are largely the same from church to church, your design process needs to take into account the particularities of your church and context. Here is the exact process that we've used at our church and that I use with my clients:

  • Ask - Involve current and potential leaders in defining the problem
  • Imagine - Brainstorm possible solutions
  • Plan - Sketch out a visual model of your pipeline
  • Create - Build one piece of the pipeline and test it out
  • Improve - Modify your prototype to make it better
  • Repeat - Walk through the entire design process for the next piece of your pipeline

Do The Next Right Thing

Take a few minutes and decide which stage of leadership development you are in right now. Spend 30 minutes designing an action plan that you can execute during the next month. Resist the temptation to build a churchwide development process if you don't know how to develop yourself or another individual leader.

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