Most aspects of leadership cannot be learned in the classroom. They are the outcomes of years of diverse experiences and relationships coupled with the gifts of the leader. For example, what leaders often call “intuition” in making effective decisions is in reality a decision-making capacity based on years of trial-and-error experiences in similar situations – or, what one could call “spiritual wisdom.”
However, there are certain things that can profitably be addressed in a formal classroom or training setting as long as they take place within the broader context of the experiences of life and ministry.
The Word of God
For Christian leaders, formal training must include deep and systematic teaching of the Word of God.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Simple Skill Building
In many organizations, the development of skills on-the-job is a largely haphazard process, in that the learning usually occurs by chance. Thus, it is likely that certain leadership skills will never be learned or will be developed only partially. Training can formalize this process and ensure the emerging leader receives correct and adequate exposure to particular necessary skills.
There are two kinds of skills that need to be developed in leaders:
- Ministry skills. This is the day-to-day specialized knowledge needed to lead in a particular organizational context; for example, prayer, deliverance, healing, music, leading worship, counseling, communication, preaching the gospel, sharing one’s personal testimony, etc.
- People skills. These interpersonal skills, such as developing teams, managing change, communication, listening, accountability, giving and receiving correction, cross-cultural skills, conflict management, delegation, etc., are always necessary, but frequently neglected!
Leaders must learn how to think.
- Strategic skills. As leaders grow in responsibility, they must make the profound strategic transition from doing things well to seeing that those things are done well. Thus, strategic skills, such as interpreting the environment, systems thinking, assessing follower needs, strategic envisioning and planning, etc., are necessary, especially at higher levels in the organization.
- Big picture thinking. Effective leaders often have a strong ability to think conceptually – to see the big picture. This plays a vital role in their ability to set direction because the ability to think strategically involves comprehending the current and future environments. Visionary leaders can think clearly over relatively long spans of time, seeing how complicated chains of events are related, and developing practical strategies for attaining long-range goals. Formal training can encourage the leader to think conceptually about the issues facing his organization by giving him conceptual frameworks and models to use in interpreting information. The rest of his conceptual development will then come through his relationship with God, his experiences, and his interactions with others who are also working through “big picture” issues. Jesus shared many “big picture” conceptual frameworks with His disciples (e.g., Matt. 20:25-28) as did Paul (e.g., 1 Cor. 12).
- Clarity regarding the role of the leader. Another aspect of conceptual ability is the leader’s ability to understand the leadership role itself – to understand what leadership is and the differences between a leader and a manager, and to know how to be and act like a leader. These things are often learned through observing successful and unsuccessful leaders in various contexts. Additionally, formal training can expose emerging leaders to a diversity of leadership examples and provide simple models to help define leadership. Thus, training helps build the awareness that will greatly enhance and give meaning to the experiences of life and ministry.
It is not sufficient merely to teach an emerging leader about these conceptual abilities. There is still the responsibility on the part of both the leader and his community to create the subsequent leadership experiences that will make the conceptual understandings an integral and lasting part of the leader’s thinking.
Personal Reflection Exercises
Emerging leaders need time to consolidate learning. So we must provide some time for reflection and analysis. Unfortunately, much experience, both positive and negative, is wasted because leaders aren’t allowed – or forced – to stop and make sense of what just happened or to digest what they just learned. Without sufficient reflection, people tend to repeat their mistakes. Reflection is hard to do in the field.
- Through training and personal exercises, the leader can reflect upon his relationships with God and his community that lie at the heart of his leadership. He can also examine his own character. Ideally, these reflective exercises should begin early in a leader’s life, and occur regularly.
- Reflective exercises can also stimulate personal growth by heightening a person’s awareness of his own personality and cultural predispositions, as well as his competency strengths and weaknesses.
- Purpose exercises can help the emerging leader to clarify his own calling from God. The more accurately he can do this, the more effective he will be. Personal reflection can be done in a variety of contexts: individually, in pairs with a peer or with an advisor, mentor or coach, or in a small group.
It is profitable for the leader to receive candid feedback from others regarding the present condition of his leadership with regard to the prior four areas. For example, one might ask, “How are my communication skills and in what areas do I need improvement?” This will help him to fully understand his strengths and weaknesses, and to define a plan for future development. This feedback will be especially effective when it occurs in the context of the intense relationships of daily life within the learning community.
Never Forget …
Classroom instruction, by itself, is not sufficient to build new leaders. Leader development is much bigger than education or formal training. There is a part for formal instruction to play in the process, but it is not enough by itself. God uses all the processes of life in the extremely complicated course of building a leader, including the classroom environment.