Leaders are born, right?
Dear EPA Leaders,
I continue to be grateful for your leadership in your congregation and in the larger church. Your gifts and leadership are leading us forward. As we look to engage more deeply in growing faith and developing vital, sustainable mission congregations, leadership is essential to God’s plans for us. Today I want to consider with you how leaders develop.
Throughout my life of ministry and leadership, invariably people have asked me how I knew something or where I learned to lead. I have become a student of leadership development. Many factors are important to the success of a congregation, ministry or organization; but one is key: leadership.
Some say, “Leaders are born.” Don’t believe that. Leadership is not biological. It is shaped and honed over time. Some gifted persons rise to become very good leaders. These are generally leaders who failed early and often and became better by learning, taking on new challenges and opening themselves to being coached. These are leaders who are hungry to improve their competency. Leadership is a competency that is learned, practiced and improved.
How do leaders develop competency?
Often the church has relied on providing information and instruction to develop leaders. We send people to workshops and seminars, provide books for them to read and the latest videos to view. Many are frustrated after participating in these experiences. They report that the material they are taught they already knew or have tried before. They find the workshops focused on theory but rarely offering practical steps for implementation.
Experience has taught us that providing information alone does not work. Becoming a competent leader takes a lot more than information.
Do people know how to learn?
YES!!! Ask a person about something they do well, and they will tell you how they learned it. Most often they share the same core experiences. The individual wants to learn and has a goal to become good at knitting, cooking, bowling, sailing, Excel spreadsheets, teaching, writing or any other trade, hobby, sport or role you can think of. Generally, there are five keys to learning leadership.
The First Key to developing better leaders is that the person wants to improve in an area of leadership. Leadership development begins by identifying what people want to learn. The best leaders take time to learn about the subject. Generally, they learn best by using methods of their preferred learning style. Some prefer to learn by reading, some by listening, some by watching, and some by doing. We all have preferred learning styles.
The Second Key to developing better leaders is letting people tell you how they learn. Assisting the individual to develop a learning plan that is applicable to their preferred learning style and context has a much better chance of success.
The Third Key to developing better leaders is for them to apply what they learn right away. Applying the information right away is key to learning and growing. This includes applying the learning right in the workshop.
The Fourth Key to developing better leaders is to take risks, make mistakes, and use a coach to understand and work through challenges. Leaders learn by encountering challenges that require practice, guidance from a mentor or coach, and further learning.
The Fifth Key to developing better leaders is to take on a new, harder challenge once the leader has overcome the initial challenge. The leader continues to practice a learned skill; and once the leadership skill is developed, the individual is given a new challenge.
Fittingly, this is the same process Jesus used to disciple his disciples. Jesus taught, challenged, sent and coached his disciples to develop and live out their faith among society. This learning process has been around for thousands of years. Why? Because it works.
Unfortunately, the church has relied mostly on providing just information and workshops. That is helpful but not effective if it is the only strategy used. Leaders are developed over time by using practical processes that turn learners into doers.
Leadership Development Process
EPA continues to strengthen our ministry to develop leaders using the following process:
- a. People learn what they feel motivated to learn. Beginning with the leader’s interests in their role and in the work at hand will assist them in the learning process.
- b. Clarity about a leader’s role and desired outcomes helps a leader focus their learning on things that matter most to achieve effectiveness.
- c. Information and understanding are essential for a leader; but they do not produce competency. People develop leadership skills and competency by practicing, executing and then receiving feedback.
- d. Challenges accelerate learning and competency when matched with support, such as coaching, consultation, cohorts and mentoring.
A leader’s competency grows through the following process; and the process does not necessarily occur in the same order for every person.
- a. A leader identifies an area they want to improve.
b. A leader engages in learning about a particular leadership area by doing any of the following: reading, attending a workshop or seminar, watching videos, observing others.
- c. A leader is challenged by themselves or by a supervisor, coach or mentor to make progress in their leadership by helping their church or organization improve in an area of ministry.
- d. The leader develops a personal plan and/or an organizational or ministry plan with the congregation or organization to improve an area of ministry.
- e. The leader and coworkers in the congregation or organization receive coaching, consultation and problem-solving assistance to achieve the goals of the plan.
- f. Successes are celebrated.
- g. Successes and challenges are evaluated for continual improvement.
- h. The leader is given another opportunity to grow through the next right challenge.
- i. This development process of (a) through (h) start over again.
EPA’s leadership is preparing to assist your congregation through its discernment process, as we emerge from the pandemic. We want to help your congregation become an even more vital and sustainable mission-focused congregation. All our Pathways to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health efforts are geared to help you develop and mobilize leadership skills in your congregation. You can find more information here on our webpage epaumc.org/pathways. You will also be able to sign up for one of the five EPA Pathways through the web page.
Thank you for leading in The United Methodist Church. We look forward to working with you as together we deepen faith, grow vital, sustainable mission congregations, and recruit and develop transformational leaders.
Keep the faith