Being a leader is challenging—I think few would dispute that. Along the journey, all leaders will experience many great successes and failures; you can’t have one without the other.
As someone who’s had the privilege of watching many leaders grow over time, it’s been helpful to think through the support process.
Whenever I’ve had somebody working under me struggle or fail as a leader, I like to walk them through what might have gone wrong along the way. I might sit down with them and say, “Let’s talk about how I can help you succeed better.”
That might look like putting a new system around the individual to help him or her work more efficiently. It might look like giving the person more support. The solutions are likely to vary from person to person.
Having these conversations is important because most of the time, when new leaders fail early on, it’s not because they aren’t going to be great leaders one day. Most of the time, if you see potential in a person, there are other external factors that can be adjusted to help him or her succeed. I’d always say that when in doubt, you blame the system, not the person.
So, there are two ways I’ve found to be the most effective methods of leading. The first is engaging those I lead. The second is directing those I lead to engage with other resources.
At the moment, I’m gearing up some of these where I currently serve, hiring some staff to free up more time for leadership development. But, let me share my past practice and my future plan.
For starters, to engage those I lead would be to establish some sort of ongoing connection between the two of us. This could look like a weekly meeting. The general principle is that it’s better to get this on the calendar early on so there are no hard feelings later on if the leader begins to struggle and needs more assistance.
There’s an old expression in leadership: people do what you inspect, not what you expect. In my own current work environment at Wheaton College, there are dozens of employees and we’re all part of a multi-million dollar operation. In order to keep track of all this, my boss has me fill out reports to keep her in the loop with what I am doing with my time. We’ll either touch base by phone or in person at least twice a month. This kind of structure helps leaders grow and experience mentorship without feeling over-supervised or cloistered.
Helping them Engage Elsewhere
As to the second point, as I’m supervising leaders and helping them succeed, it’s important to help provide them engagement with ‘something else’; neither I (nor any one person) can be the only source of all knowledge for a growing leader.
That ‘something else’ could be a myriad of things. Let’s say I’m supervising an emerging leader who’s working at a church and running the small groups ministries. It would be really important to have this leader look into some strategic learning opportunities outside of just meeting one-on-one with me.
I might suggest that the leader take a small group training course. Perhaps I could also suggest that the person read a book or two on the topic he or she is trying to learn about. Either way, I’ll have the person come back after taking the course or reading the book and we’ll discuss in detail what he or she has learned.
It’s not about being this leader’s only resource; it’s about helping connect them with new resources to enhance their learning and help them grow. When you do that, you give them tracks to run on and content to use to make them better at what they do both now and in the future.
Finding the Right Fit
Through this training and rebuilding process, you can also help the emerging leader expose whether or not his or her gifts are being put to good use in the area he or she is currently serving in. If his or her gift in leadership are well placed, the person is going to thrive. If these are not, it’ll show in due time.
The body of Christ is a diverse place and not all of us will excel in the same areas, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s actually an important part of God’s design that helps us learn to lean on one another better.
Helping someone grow and develop as a young leader isn’t easy—in fact, it can be quite hard work at times. But the end product—a person who is equipped and ready to follow God’s calling on their lives—is well worth the wait.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.