Need a leader? Disciple one.

In my last post, I wrote about the critical investment of mentoring potential leaders. Since then, I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany:”discipling” is a more fitting term than “mentoring.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but there is an energy in the term discipling that I don’t experience when speaking of mentoring. Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted advisor who trains and counsels. That sounds somewhat pedantic to me,  like a sage on the stage kind of role, one-sided rather than an exchange between two people.

The dictionaries I use don’t recognize the word “discipling,” so I can’t quote a definition to compare alongsidedisciples-follow “mentoring.” But discipling brings to my mind Jesus going from town to town with the disciples following Him, observing His behavior as well as listening to His teaching. He would put them to work, too, challenging them to step beyond their comfort zones by telling them to feed 5000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, or sending them to villages to heal the sick and cast out demons.

Leaders come from discipling–intentional prolonged investment in someone’s spiritual formation. Not a quick Bible study on leadership. Not a workshop designed to develop the leader within you. I am not implying that these things are bad or useless–they can be quite helpful when used effectively. But on their own, they won’t create the leaders we need. No, this is a personal, one-on-one process that takes time, energy, intentionality. The reward, however, is well worth the investment.

To develop a leader requires letting them get close enough to see you when you are not at your best, when you are dealing with the difficulties of life. They are likely quite capable of consulting the scriptures to see what God has to say about feeding the hungry, but it’s quite another thing for you to suggest that you go together to a homeless shelter to serve a meal, debriefing the experience afterwards and sharing honestly how you found it difficult to tolerate the odor of alcohol, stale cigarettes, and unwashed bodies. The disciples witnessed Jesus when He was tired, frustrated, sad, and mad as well as when he was gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving.

While you are discipling someone, both you and they learn about their spiritual gifts. Gifting without discipleship is anemic; gifting under the tutelage of an equipping leader can be much more effective. When you disciple another, the opportunity to explore, encourage, and empower is built into the process. You can avert the train wreck that results from an unnoticed mismatched ministry opportunity, and celebrate the joy of successful, fulfilling service. You get to see up close and personal an emerging leadership style as it matures and bears fruit!

Leadership development is all about discipling. It’s tempting to think there’s a shortcut. There isn’t–I’ve tried. It’s tempting to think you can’t afford to invest the time and energy. Don’t be deceived. In reality, you can’t afford to do anything less. No one is going to do this for you. (Believe me, I speak from experience.) If you are a leader, you need to be discipling someone to become a leader, too.

So…what are you waiting for? Find someone who is FAT–faithful, available, and teachable. Let them get close to you, invest in a one-on-one relationship, pour yourself into them, then watch for a leader to emerge.

*Two resources I have found helpful are Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement and Changing the World, by Steve Addison.

P.S. It should go without saying, but…if you aren’t leading, find someone to disciple you!

A critical investment

(Continued from my last post)

2. Invest in potential leaders

As I attempted to provide leadership for our ministry teams who are without leaders, I found it surprisingly easy to deceive myself into believing that my over-functioning behavior was an act of service. The truth, however, was that I was simply feeding my hunger for control and closure: get it done and move on to the next task. (This beast is the bane of many leaders, but that’s a topic for another day.) As an equipper, the appropriate behavior is to invest in potential leaders.

Who is a potential leader?

My view on leadership is somewhat atypical. I believe that any and every Christian is called to lead in one respect or another. When viewed through the lens of the Great Commission, we are all called to lead others to Christ. That makes every Christian a leader. The style of leadership is what differentiates one leader from another.

I’ve had the joy recently of watching my granddaughter learn to walk. Sometimes her mommy is in front of her, beckoning her to come. Sometimes Mommy is beside her, holding one hand to help with balance. And at other times Mommy is behind her, holding both hands as she guides her forward.  Likewise, some leaders are out front leading the charge, so to speak. Some leaders come alongside or lead from the middle of the team. And yet other leaders lead from behind, exhorting and encouraging as they propel.

My role as an equipping leader is to help believers identify their unique style of leadership so that they lead from their strengths rather than try to fit the cultural perception of a leader or–worse–abandon the idea of leading altogether because they don’t fit the stereotype. Since my time and energy are finite, it behooves me to identify those who are ready to explore their potential for leading, investing myself in them even as I set the example for them to invest in others.

How do I invest in potential leaders?

Mentor them. And if I intend to practice what I preach–that is, be true to my own style of leadership–it’s imperative that I understand my own strengths when it comes to mentoring. Steve Saccone identified seven mentoring styles that I find helpful:

  • The Wise Sage
  • The Opportunity Giver
  • The Informal Discipler
  • The Example Setter
  • The Coaching Mentor
  • The Spiritual Director
  • The Caring Counselor
  • The Focused Activator

You can read more about them here, and I encourage you to do so. Pray and ponder about which style/styles are yours. Keep in mind that you may feel comfortable with more than one style, which certainly broadens your ability to develop leaders. As you identify potential leaders around you, consider which mentoring style might work best with an individual. If it’s not a style you are comfortable with, perhaps that’s not the person you are to mentor. If you are part of a team of leaders who each understand their own mentoring style, you can direct that person to someone on your team whose style is a better match.

Want to be a more effective equipping leader? Help others…


Opposites attract, right?

According to the laws of physics, yes, opposites attract. But when it comes to personalities, that’s not always the case.

I know of a church leader who, before becoming a pastor, was a successful businessman. He is ambitious and somewhat driven. He attracts other leaders who share his ambition and, together, they manage a large church with a budget in the millions, comprised mainly of people of moderate to substantial means. His “corporate persona” naturally attracts people who place a high value on professionalism.

I know another pastor whose personality is quite the opposite. His style is relaxed and easy-going, pretty “laid-back” using current vernacular. He pastors a smaller church, comprised primarily of people of modest means. Though not lazy, he’s a low-energy kind of guy who naturally draws similarly low-energy folks to his church, often those who are looking for a place to worship where they won’t be continually urged to “do.”

Both of these pastors are extremely intelligent and competent. Their behavioral styles, however, are vastly different. Consequently, their churches look nothing alike.

What kind of leader are you?

What kind of people do you attract? Are they like you, or are they your opposite? Wise leaders know that it is necessary to attract people who are different from them as well as those who are similar. This requires a measure of adaptability.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, Paul speaks of becoming all things to all people. Now he was, of course, speaking  in context of sharing the gospel. But I think his point is relevant to leadership development as well. In order to have  a balanced leadership team, pastors need to adapt their behavior in order to attract other, diverse behavioral styles.

The first pastor mentioned above has a leadership team of high-powered executives. Looking at it through an equipping lens, he doesn’t have to expend a lot of energy on motivating his leaders. However, he does have to manage the conflict that arises from having too many competent leaders and not enough willing servants, not to mention the problems that can arise from leading a church using corporate strategies.

The other pastor doesn’t have to deal with internal power struggles, but he does have to step in regularly to inspire and motivate. He finds it necessary to re-cast vision frequently and often needs to interject his leadership into ministry teams in order to generate enough energy to maintain ministry momentum. To some, this might have the appearance of micro-managing.

To be clear, one of these leadership styles is not better than the other. However, in both cases, the pastors expend time and energy on situations that, if their leadership teams were more behaviorally diverse, could be avoided.

Who’s on your team?

I know this isn’t rocket science but, nonetheless, take a serious look at your leadership team. Is it made up of people who are like you? It may be what comes naturally, but you you will do yourself and your church a favor if you follow Paul’s example and adapt to the behavioral styles of others in order to attract them to your church and to your leadership team.

Unity is not “sameness.” Unity is variety that learns to work together harmoniously, showing the world what it means to be the Body of Christ.

Leading rightly

I was recently  pondering Mark 9:2-9, the story of the transfiguration of Jesus…

And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.

Must have been quite a sight. And add to that the voice from heaven saying,

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

I would have been speechless. How about you?

In all honesty, I might have been speechless, but I probably would have been just like Peter, who wanted to do something! Peter wanted to capture the moment. Maybe he thought he could somehow capture Jesus’ glory in that tent he wanted to make. In today’s context, I would have been frantically digging out my camera to catch all this on video, the moment immortalized forever.

But here’s the problem…as soon as that moment came, it was gone. No time to build a tent or turn on the video camera. No chance to capture that glimpse of glory.

And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Why? Because His glory was not yet complete. Even if the radiant glory had lasted long enough for Peter to make a tent–even if that glory could have been captured by a camera–it would have been incomplete. Christ’s full glory had not yet been attained. Only a moment of the story would have been captured, and not the most important moment. Patient waiting is required. There is more yet to come.

As I read the gospels, Peter’s leadership style always stands out. Like a little child, it cries loudly for attention. Later on in his epistles, I can see that his style has evolved into something more powerful, but in the gospels it is most often immature.

The world today frantically searches for the loudest voice, the quick fix, the puffed-up leader who exudes charisma. That leader is often immature.  Not at all like Jesus who chose to write in the dirt rather than speak, who waited for Lazarus to die rather than rushing to heal him, and whose only charisma was the glory of God glimpsed by barely a few and in the oddest of ways.

But the one who waits in the quiet for the glory of God to shine on the right answer at the right time–the perfect action in God’s perfect timing–this is the one who leads rightly, whose work is blessed and whose light shines.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.                                  -2 Corinthians 4:6

*Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How are you leading?

How do those you lead respond to you? Do they comply with whatever you are asking of them? Do you have to keep sending reminders, poking and prodding for action? Is there ever any pushback? Do any members of your team ever “tweak” your ideas? How do you receive those suggestions for improvement?

There are all sorts of leadership style surveys and questionnaires out there that are much more comprehensive than the questions I’ve posed. I’ve taken many of them and found that, when answered honestly, they helped me identify my strengths and my growing edges. But if you are of a mind right this minute to examine your leadership style, answer this: Honestly, are you seeking compliance or growth from those you lead?

Consider this from Seth Godin’s little book, Graceful:

“Because we are not seeking compliance, our goal is growth. And growth requires leadership, not authority.”

Authority breeds compliance. Compliance squelches creativity and innovation, which inhibits growth. As Godin points out, “…growth comes from change, insight and exploration, not obedience.” Effective leaders not only encourage input, they invite constructive feedback. When your team members are free to question your plan, to share suggestions for improvement, or to offer up their own plan which may be quite different from yours, growth happens. For them and for you.

So, here’s a simple suggestion to help you be a better leader: Stop talking and listen–with an open mind. Let go of the old notion that effective leaders are authoritative, that you have to offer up the idea and that it has to be realized hands holding seedlingaccording to your plan. Resist the urge to offer up your proposal–let someone else speak first. Invite feedback and discussion. Sit back and listen. Experience growth.


Rearranging the Bones

A couple of years ago, I read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes. It really stirred my perception of leadership. I was fascinated by the way Godin presented a new leadership paradigm that–in my mind, at least–opened the door for folks who don’t fit the traditional leader mold, yet they effectively lead others.

Previously I posted a blog about leaders who “drip vision.” * As I was writing the blog, I envisioned this person as having a more traditional leadership style, someone who is charismatic, dynamic when sharing their vision and very eager to do so. But I recently had a different experience of “dripping vision” as I worked with a leader whose style reminds me more of Godin’s paradigm than John Maxwell’s…

I spent two days last week with a team whose mission was honing the identity of an annual conference. Our team leader’s approach to guiding us in this process was refreshing. I believe that Tim has a vision for this ministry, but he wasn’t concerned so much with sharing his vision as with hearing about our vision. In fact, I don’t know that I ever heard Tim state his vision clearly and succinctly during the two days we worked together. However, I’m confident that I will hear it soon, and that it will sound familiar!

Tim came well prepared to facilitate conversation among the nine of us. He asked questions, suggested scenarios to ponder, and led us into activities designed to draw out our creativity. But mostly, Tim listened. He invited us to enter into the visioning process with him, without first influencing us with his own ideas. That Tim came with a vision I have no doubt, but he seemed more interested in what this team could contribute to that vision.

This approach to leadership is unlike the stereotypical model of visionary leaders who “cast vision.”  These leaders often develop their vision in a vacuum. Because they don’t have the skill set to convert the vision to reality, they find it necessary to enlist the aid of others who can more readily see how to put flesh on the bones, so to speak. However, those “others” typically aren’t invited–much less encouraged–to re-arrange the bones! The vision has been cast ( i.e., set in stone) by the leader and those who have been called alongside are charged with the task of developing a strategy for the vision. (This is, of course, a necessary step in any vision → reality process.)

So, did Tim “drip vision?” He did… and without a lot of rhetoric on his part. I think we each left the planning retreat with a vision for the ethos of the conference. When Tim does articulate the vision, I believe we will each recognize a bit of ourselves. It will feel familiar.

Moreover, there is another way in which Tim dripped vision. He showed us a different model of leadership, one that is highly collaborative and values the input of others. Tim dripped a vision for true team development and unselfish leadership as he invited us to rearrange the bones of his vision.

There is a time and place for each of these leadership styles–and others, too, of course. Perhaps the measure of a true leader is in knowing which style is appropriate for which situation…and being willing to adapt accordingly. In other words, are you willing to let someone rearrange your bones?

*This phraseology originated with Wil Mancini in his Clarity Evangelist blog post of Sept. 7, 2010.