One of the characteristics of leadership is that it is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Sure, we can listen to a professor or leader give a lecture on leadership, read a great book, or listen to a podcast, but, even then, the only way we can really learn what we’re being taught about leadership is to actually put it in place.
One of the ways we — as ministry leaders — can help other leaders grow in leadership is to actually throw them into the mix. But since leadership is really something that needs to be learned “on the job” from first-hand experience, throwing an emerging leader into the mix really means giving them leadership responsibility before they are 100 percent ready for that responsibility. It’s definitely a risk, but I’d be willing to bet, if you thought about it, it was how you first learned some of your most valuable leadership skills.
Of course, it’s a bad idea to take just anyone and put them in a leadership role just because you think they need to be a better leader. While giving someone a leadership role that will stretch them can be a transformative experience, doing so cavalierly and without much thought can be a very damaging experience — both for the leader and the people he or she is leading. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to helping leaders grow through stretching leadership experiences:
Be a good judge of character and leadership skills. Many might call this intuition, but I believe that discerning whether or not someone is ready for another level of responsibility involves more effort than it does natural ability. Before you put someone in a leadership role that they may or may not be ready for, spend the necessary time to know who they are and what others think of them. What are their motives for wanting more leadership responsibility? Are they in this to make a name for themselves, or are they a servant leader? You know who they are in public, but what about in their private life? Don’t make the mistake of putting the wrong person in the wrong role just because you weren’t willing to do your homework.
Provide support. Admittedly, I’ve learned this one the hard way. A great way to take a great emerging leader, and an important ministry opportunity, and create a disaster is to hand that person their leadership role and disappear. You don’t want to be a “helicopter parent” to your emerging leaders, but you can still provide plenty of support by simply checking in to see how things are going, asking if any resources are needed, or just sending an encouraging text to let them know you’re praying for them. Don’t drop them off at the curb and just drive away.
Create “laboratory” leadership roles. If you want to give emerging leaders a chance to spread their leadership wings, but don’t have something that would fit them at the moment, create one just for them. Perhaps you ask them to plan a game that goes along with next week’s youth group lesson, even if you already have one in mind. Or you could ask them to come up with a 10-minute devotional to kick off next month’s service day, though you hadn’t really planned on doing one. I’m not suggesting you come up with fake, pointless tasks for them to do, but if you put some thought into it, you could easily create something for emerging leaders to do that would help them grow.
Provide concrete feedback. One characteristic of Christ-centered leaders is that they welcome constructive feedback, even when it’s tough to hear. When you give someone an opportunity to lead in a meaningful way under your watch, you’re only doing half of your job as a leader if you don’t give them feedback that will help them grow even more. What did they do well? What did you notice that they could improve on? Even if it’s just a quick five-minute conversation or a short email, your feedback likely means a lot to the person receiving it.
Reward great leadership with more leadership. When someone does a great job under your watch, continue to give them more responsibility as a leader. It’s important to note, however, that more leadership doesn’t necessarily mean upward mobility, especially in God’s Kingdom. What it does mean, is that if someone excels in their leadership role, continue to give them plenty of opportunities to excel. If a volunteer does a great job giving a 10-minute devotional, consider asking if they’d like to teach youth group once a month. If you’ve got a leader who shines when you give them the opportunity, they’re likely to go somewhere else if they aren’t given more opportunities to lead. It’s not that they want to be in the spotlight; it’s just that God has wired them to lead, so if you don’t let them do that, they’ll find some place where they can use the gifts God has given them.
What other ways can you help leaders grow through stretching leadership experiences?