Healthy Leaders


8 Ways You Can Motivate Your Emerging Leaders to Grow

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Fundamentally, building leaders involves providing opportunities for growth – opportunities for learning, experience, responsibilities, relationships, resources, observing, suffering, etc. These opportunities will not magically produce the growth by themselves and there are no guarantees that specific individuals will take advantage of them.

When emerging leaders enter a development process, sometimes they have the attitude and expectation that change will be automatic. Such a passive attitude is unhealthy and counterproductive. They must clearly be told that they will get as much out of the process as they put into it.

Sometimes our emerging leaders seem to have great leadership potential but they lack motivation. The following are eight ways to help motivate them to learn and grow.

Pray for them.

When faced with the lack of leaders in His own time, Jesus’ response was:

The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (Luke 10:2)

This is the key thing Jesus told us to do in the face of a leadership shortage: pray! However, this is often the last thing we actually do. The old adage, “When all else fails, pray” is utterly unbiblical. We should bring everything before God in prayer before trying anything else. The significance of Jesus’ words cannot be overstated: His response when confronted with an acute lack of godly leadership was not to put on a “leadership seminar,” but to pray.

Ultimately, it is God who works in emerging leaders “to will and to do according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). So we should pray that God will raise up more leaders, better leaders, present leaders, future leaders. We should pray that God will move on the hearts of the ones in whom there is potential. God is the One around whom the issue actually revolves. Thus, prayer builds motivation.

Get their attention.

Share with prospective leaders a vision of their potential in God. Share with them what they could accomplish, the lives and leaders they could transform, the cities and nations they could impact. Thus, vision builds motivation.

Tell them about the rewards.

The Bible is clear about the eternal rewards that a faithful leader will receive one day. Peter was addressing leaders when he wrote these words:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Pet. 5:4)

Thus, reward builds motivation.

Give them assignments that create a desire to learn.

Challenge them! The desire to learn is particularly high when new knowledge or skills are needed to do an existing job better or to complete an assignment that is altogether new. A person’s latent desire to learn becomes a manifest need to learn when success depends on the mastery of new competencies. Thus, a specific need builds motivation.

Recognize their individual strengths and callings.

We must work with emerging leaders according to who they are – according to their giftings and passion – and not merely according to what the organization needs at the moment.

The more that people are focused on fulfilling their own specific destinies in God, the more motivated they will be to grow. Everyone has certain “motivated abilities;” there are particular things that they are good at doing and want to do. The better we can match a person’s given responsibilities (present and future) with his inward motivated abilities, the more willingly he will advance. Thus, gifting and calling build motivation.

Provide resources to assist them in learning.

Such resources might include access to experienced people, training events, learning materials, etc. Thus, resources build motivation.

Encourage them constantly.

When people start moving down a new path, they need frequent encouragement, especially when they encounter inevitable obstacles, unexpected problems and uncharted forks in the road. The unknown brings uncertainty and hesitation, so encouragement builds motivation.

Be careful to protect those who try and fail.

To grow, one must make mistakes. No baby ever learned to walk without falling down many times. No concert pianist ever learned to play the piano flawlessly at her first attempt. Almost everyone admits that learning requires risk and inevitable mistakes, yet organizations are frequently characterized by zero tolerance for errors.

There is no more certain way for any leader to squash growth than to punish mistakes that are made in the spirit of learning. A learning environment must allow second chances, and present a tone that mistakes are acceptable as long as one learns from them. In fact, one should cultivate an atmosphere in which mistakes are expected! If someone makes no mistakes, that means he’s not trying anything new, which means he’s staying in his own comfort zone of what is already known and mastered, which in turn means he’s not growing as a leader!

A friend taught one of my sons to walk on his hands. The first thing he did was to have my son stand up on his hands and then fall forward as he caught him. After doing this several times, my son overcame his natural fear of falling forward (the greatest inhibitor to people learning to walk on their hands). But after my son actually fell forward a couple of times he realized that “failing” was not that painful after all. This emboldened him to continue to learn the new skill.

It is this way with leadership. The builder must create an environment around the emerging leader that not only makes risk-taking possible, but also proactively encourages it. Reduce the cost of failure for the emerging leader. Make it possible for him or her to make a mistake without being crippled by it. Overcome the tendency to rush in and rescue the person at the first sign of difficulty (unless, of course, the leader is about to expose himself or the community to unacceptable risk; then you must intervene). Generally speaking, give the emerging leader some breathing room.

In conclusion …

While doing all we can to motivate the emerging leaders to learn and grow, at the same time, we must recognize that we cannot make someone become a leader against his own will. For example, Demas (2 Tim. 4:10) fell away after having ministered with Paul, the great apostle! So too, Judas Iscariot walked with Jesus Himself and yet fell away!

Thus, a person may have great potential, but he still must choose to respond to the opportunities offered him. Many, unfortunately, hide their “talent” in the ground and never develop their potential (Matt. 25:25). Leadership is hard. It comes with suffering, rejection and pain – a high price. Consequently, not everyone desires such a responsibility, though some may embrace the call to leadership later (Matt. 21:28-31).

Furthermore, we must recognize that sometimes we have plans for people’s lives that do not necessarily reflect God’s plans, and their rejection of us and our plans may not always involve a deeper rejection of God.

Leader development is not something you do “to” someone or “for” someone. A potter can only create the type of pot that the clay allows him to. Some clay is supple and elastic; some clay is crumbly and difficult to shape. The clay responds to the influences around it; it is not passive.

It is the same with people. They are not simply the passive sum total of what we put into them. It is how they respond to and interact with the various shaping influences around them that count (Prov. 9:7-9). Thus, responsibility for learning and growing resides in the emerging leader himself – as well as in the church community.

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