Healthy Leaders


18 Ways to Identify Emerging Leaders

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Since a leader can personally build only a few new leaders, he must be sure that he builds the right ones. He must prayerfully and carefully choose the right few. Unfortunately, too often we spend more time trying to train people than we do making sure we are training the right people in the first place.

Biblical leaders do not hand out application forms. They personally chose the people they would work with. No volunteer ever made it into the small community around Jesus. All were chosen (Mark 1:16-20). This was also true of Paul’s learning community (Acts 16:1-3).

So, how can we know who to build? How can we discern the call of God upon a person’s life? These are common questions in leaders’ minds. The following are some guidelines concerning how to choose the right emerging leaders to work with.

Look beyond appearances and be willing to take some risks.

In choosing His key leaders, Jesus looked for men of character (John 1:47) and spiritual passion (Mark 1:18, 20). However, at the same time, they were ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, and full of prejudices and misconceptions (John 1:46; Matt. 14:26; 20:21, etc.) Jesus knew they could grow, and in choosing His leaders, disregarded social convention and human wisdom.

He was not afraid of the drawbacks arising out of the external connections or the past history of His emerging leaders.

Do not be in a hurry.

Jesus’ twelve arrived at their final intimate relationships with Him in three stages:

Pray much before the choice is made.

If Jesus needed to pray about making the right choices, how much more do we? Before Jesus chose His emerging leaders, He spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13).Jesus chose the men His Father led Him to.Jesus knew He had to choose the right ones. He only had three years; if He chose the wrong ones He would not get a second chance.

Consider the fruit of their existing leadership.

The past can be a good predictor of the future. In Acts 16, Paul recognized that Timothy had a fruitful and extensive ministry that involved at least two cities, Lystra and Iconium. Moreover, it appears there was unity among the brothers in these cities. The ability to bring unity between groups of believers is an apostolic characteristic. Paul observed all this and chose Timothy to travel with him.

Examine the recommendation of those around them.

You must listen carefully to those who know emerging leaders them. Peer respect will often reveal true character, while a candidate’s existing leaders will be able to evaluate his potential ministry capacity.

To assess an emerging leader properly, decisions should be based on an integrated view of him drawn from the various perspectives held by the people who have directly led, worked with, and lived with him throughout his life.

Look for security in Christ.

The emerging leader must have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship will be the source of his character as well as his endurance during hard times. In addition, he will not compromise his integrity for the sake of being accepted by man, when he has first found deep acceptance in Christ.

Look for the willingness to serve and to make personal sacrifices for the Divine cause.

Jesus emphasized the need for total commitment(Matt. 13:44-45). And consider the immediate response of those who Jesus chose to follow Him (Mark 1:17-20)!

People who are not willing to make the necessary sacrifice and who have their own list of terms and requirements are probably not the best choices. Christian leadership is not about position, titles, power, authority, respect or privilege; it is an obligation to service and to self-sacrifice. The Christian leader’s attitude must be that he is an “unworthy servant” who has only done his duty(Luke 17:7-10).

Look for a genuine love for God’s people.

We must not, as many leaders do, use the people of God for our own promotion or to fulfill our own agendas. The foundation of our ministries must be a genuine love for the saints and a commitment to their highest good in God’s purposes (Phil. 2:20-21).

This love will be tested profoundly and repeatedly over the years of ministry, so it must be present from the beginning in the heart of an emerging leader.

Look for responsibility.

Since leadership involves being the one who moves ahead first, the leader must have the courage and the willingness to take risks, to take responsibility and to move ahead without always having to be told by someone to do so.

In addition, he must have a history of completing his work in spite of obstacles that arise. Give a group of people the responsibility to solve a problem that they are not used to dealing with. The person who grabs hold of the challenge and sees it through probably has the greatest leadership potential.

Look for accountability.

We should look for emerging leaders who are genuinely teachable, correctable and accountable. Someone may profess a deep allegiance to a leader, but this allegiance will only be tested when that leader attempts to correct the person or hold him accountable.

Look for the ability to learn from experience.

Leaders help people move to new and better places; the very nature of leadership involves going into the unknown. Consequently, the capacity to learn from experience – in particular to learn from one’s mistakes – is a critical ability in a leader. Leaders are learners. The great leaders of the future are those who have the ability to learn from their experiences and who remain open to continuous learning.

Look for “big-picture” thinking.

When it comes to the allocation of resources, leaders have to prioritize between multiple, well-presented, legitimate causes. One can only do this against a “big-picture” vision that covers the entire scope of the church or organization.

In addition, a “big-picture” thinker will be one who can create vision and share it with others, a good listener, and a good observer.

Look for “outside the box” thinking.

As well as being “big-picture” thinkers, effective leaders will also be able to generate creative responses to opportunities and problems. A healthy leader will have a spirit of discontent that is not critical but constructive.

At the same time, they must be practical in their thinking. Effective leaders must be able to distinguish between practical ideas and impractical ones, or else they will end up wasting a great deal of the organization’s time and resources.

Look for a desire to help others succeed.

A significant part of leadership involves working with others in teams, so it is vital that each leader has a heart to help his co-workers succeed (Phil. 2:3-4).

This attitude will reveal itself in ministry situations when the individual prays for and actively serves not only his own portion of the work, but also other areas of the ministry.

Look for a realistic opinion of himself and others.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Rom. 12:3)

Those who demand perfection from themselves and others will not make good leaders. Effective leaders must be willing to accept reasonable mistakes. Perfectionists will be too afraid of mistakes to delegate responsibilities to others.

Ask yourself if you are the right one to help this emerging leader.

Even when you clearly discern leadership potential in someone, you must still be sure that you can give the person the right environment he needs to grow and succeed. Paul, for example, recognized that Mark was better-placed under Barnabas’ ministry than under his own (Acts 15:36-40).

Make necessary adjustments.

It is quite likely that we will make mistakes in our choosing of emerging leaders and we should be prepared to make adjustments if we discover a “bad fit.”

In addition, we may also want to establish a probationary period to be sure we are working with the right ones (cf. 1 Tim. 3:10).

Don’t demand perfection.

We cannot expect perfection or even a high degree of maturity in a young, emerging leader in the early stages of his development. But there must be the whole-hearted willingness to learn and to grow.

In conclusion…

Potential leaders are more available than many people think. The difficulty is to identify them properly, and doing so requires sorting through a myriad of nuances and subtleties of healthy leadership.

But most of all, leader development requires an intensive relationship between the community and the emerging leaders and a deep commitment of time, resources, focus and energy. We must choose the right ones, and only God can show us who they are.

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