Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 2014
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Designing Transformational Leader Development

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In this Letter, we will begin a new series, looking at how to design transformational leader development.

Transformational leader development requires more than classroom instruction. Life transformation takes place through a combination of the “Four Dynamics of Transformation”:

Traditional training, however, almost exclusively uses the Instructional Dynamic.

Consequently when we design training, it largely consists of putting together a lot of content. We give considerable attention to making sure the content is accurate and balanced and that it’s delivered in the right order and so forth. Traditionally, designing training essentially means to prepare content.

If we shift to a holistic 4D process, of course we will still need well-designed content, but we will also need good design of the other three dynamics. We can see this in Jesus’ ministry: He gave a great deal of design focus to the spiritual, relational and experiential dynamics.

To do this requires a significant shift in thinking from traditional curricular approaches. We must think more broadly about training design. We cannot limit our design to the content; we must also deliberately incorporate design for the other three dynamics. Jesus designed relationships, experiences, responsibilities, challenges, pressures, all sorts of things – and all of it worked together well to bring life transformation to His disciples.

Recently I ate a very nice dish when I was in Asia. It was a famous seafood dish for the region – one dish with many different ingredients. There were noodles, water, seafood, ginger, sugar, rice wine and other things. There were a lot of unique ingredients but they all went together to make one tasty dish. This is how to design training!

When the chef prepares the dish, he knows what he intends the final product to look like, smell like and taste like. He starts with the goal and then he determines what ingredients need to go in, in what order, how they should be mixed together and how it should be cooked – all the details of the design.

This is how we can design training. We can have a written curriculum or a written design, and the written design can give us direction about how to move forward in providing all four Dynamics of Transformation. The written design will show us the various ingredients and how they’re mixed together.

Jesus didn’t have a written curriculum; He didn’t need it. He lived in perfect, unbroken fellowship with His Father, and, from His Father, He always knew the right thing to do moment by moment. But we do need this kind of design.

Prepared Design and Responsive Design

Jesus did essentially two kinds of leader development. First, He would design relationships, responsibilities and so forth in advance, and then He would lead His disciples through those experiences and teachings. This is “prepared design.”

But we also see a second kind of design, when things spontaneously happened around him and then He interacted with those opportunities in a way that was transformational for His disciples. Thus, some designs were prepared in advance while other times He responded to what happened. But in both cases there was purpose and intentionality. Jesus was always thinking about what was happening and how He could use it as an opportunity for life transformation.

If we have a strong understanding of the principles of transformational leader development, we can do both. We can prepare designs in advance and we can also respond well to whatever happens spontaneously in the complex process of life.

In our next Letter, we will examine more principles of transformational leader development design.