Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

August 2004
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Building Leaders Takes Time #2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

It takes a long time to build a truly qualified leader. So, what should be our goal for the participants in “leadership training” of some kind?

In summary, our goal in a short-term leadership school, for example, should not be to build the whole “building” but to lay a good foundation for the person’s life and ministry.

With a good foundation, a wonderful building can be built.

Thus, our goal should not be final and complete maturity, but the laying of a sound and comprehensive foundation in the life of the participant.

Our goal should be breadth of learning as well as depth of heart penetration. We should not try to build up but to build deep and wide.

We should not attempt to produce mastery of every concept but rather broad exposure to a number of ideas and subjects.

Our purpose should be to teach the young leaders to pray, to get them connected to God in reality, and to impart passion of vision, zeal of heart, and a willingness to suffer.

We should also seek to teach them how to think, how to learn, and to give them a love for learning. Our purpose should be to help the participant become a lifelong learner, one who will properly build on the foundation for the rest of his life.

Leadership development occurs over a lifetime. Crash courses will not suffice. Extensive and diverse experiences can only occur over time, as does the learning that comes from experience. This is one reason why an individual’s calling develops progressively over his or her lifetime – it rarely comes all at once.

Consequently, although you may be an important influence in another’s life, you will rarely be the only influence. For example, there were multiple leaders involved in Paul’s life as he grew: Gamaliel, Ananias, Barnabas, the other apostles, the leaders at Antioch, God Himself directly (2 Cor. 12:4). In Mark’s life there were Jesus, Barnabas, Paul and Peter.

This is quite healthy. The best approach to mentoring involves bringing an emerging leader into as many quality relationships as possible. We tend to imitate both the good and bad elements of a mentor’s life; this can be mitigated by having multiple mentors. In addition, each mentor will impact the emerging leader with his own unique style, strengths and priorities.

So, while a measure of protectiveness is appropriate, do not be possessive concerning the leaders you build. Instead, deliberately expose them to other men and women of God who can fill in the inevitable gaps. They don’t belong to you but to God (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

Of course it is easy to be possessive when you’ve invested so much time and energy in a person, but if you really love him and believe in him, you’ll want him to be exposed to other influences and thus find greater strength and maturity.

In summary, we cannot seek a quick fix in the issue of leadership development. It takes time to build leaders. We must have a long-term perspective similar to this ancient Chinese proverb:

If you are planting for a year, plant grain.

If you are planting for a decade, plant trees.

If you are planting for a century, plant people.

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