Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

August 2018
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Leadership Letters

Building Leaders in Real Life

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Leaders who build leaders should themselves be involved in the daily responsibilities of leadership. They should not teach in some artificial environment removed from the real world. Jesus and Paul both conducted extensive and fruitful personal ministries while concurrently building new leaders.

A leader wears several distinct “hats” in his relationship with an emerging leader. Of course, all of these roles overlap, but each practice has its own shade of meaning as it relates to content, process and purpose. Building in the context of practical leadership will augment and clarify these responsibilities such that the emerging leader’s learning increases ten-fold.

The Leader-Builder as Trainer

Training is the instructional process by which specific knowledge and skills are transferred to the emerging leader. It usually occurs early in the relationship with a more experienced leader and any time when new skills are required. It is ongoing and never-ending – the continual improvement of “technical” capacities of the new leader.

If the builder is leading day-to-day, he will maintain his integrity and credibility as a teacher, because he is no longer teaching theory but reality. It works, and here is how you know it works: the leader is actually living it and doing it. The leader has practiced what he is teaching – and in fact, is practicing it right in front of you. He genuinely knows what he is talking about. He is able to show emerging leaders fruit, and not only seeds.

The Leader-Builder as Counselor

Counseling involves helping people who have personal or interpersonal issues – inside or outside of their work or ministry responsibilities – that are interfering with their ability to properly function.

This kind of personal connection and support is impossible for any leader to achieve without getting their hands dirty. The daily realities of leadership lend balance and empathy to a leader’s ministry. Leaders tend more toward practical things and not theoretical, abstract issues when they are personally and daily involved in the struggles of leadership and ministry. In an artificial environment, the teachers get out of touch, just like the students. In a practical environment, the teacher is facing the same kind of struggles his students face – and can therefore address them more authentically.

The Leader-Builder as Confronter

Confronting is how we deal with negative attitudes, disruptive behaviors or substandard performance. Goals and objectives must be clarified and the emerging leader helped to move toward positive solutions. Underlying character or spiritual issues may also need to be dealt with.

These challenges will not be discovered easily or frequently without the context of daily life and ministry together. As leaders work side-by-side with those they build, they will encounter behaviors and attitudes in the context they occur. This immediate connection makes quick work of confrontation and reveals the necessity of change.

The Leader-Builder as Mentor

Mentoring is the process in which one leader shares his wisdom, his experience and his life with emerging leaders on a one-on-one basis. They assist them in understanding the overall purpose of life in Christ and how those purposes relate to current situations. They facilitate the emerging leader’s personal networking, and provide comfort when the emerging leader feels overwhelmed. The new leader learns by the example and personal influence of the more experienced one. What better place to do this than in everyday ministry together?

Practical Implications for Builders

Clearly, to build new leaders properly requires a significant personal investment of time, as well as emotional and spiritual energy, in a real-life context.

How do we go about making this happen, realistically?

First, any learning community that we initiate must be built on leaders and communities, and not on curriculum, books or courses. Before we begin the learning community, we must find the right leader in the right community. Finding the necessary curriculum – as important as it is – is only a secondary issue. The curriculum is only a tool in the hands of the craftsman.

Second, a combination of giftings is necessary to lead a learning community. This combination could possibly occur in one leader, but the more leaders who are involved in the learning community, the better. This way the emerging leaders are exposed to many different perspectives on life and leadership. The community provides other teachers and mentors, prayer support, nurture and encouragement for emerging leaders.

Third, remember that God will arrange circumstances for us to grow and help others grow. This means that you personally as a leader may not be the right person to build a particular emerging leader. We must seek God concerning who He wants to work with us and who He wants us to work with. Moreover, an emerging leader will often do better with a leader who has the same (or similar) ultimate calling.

Finally, the sharing of life is a central responsibility of the builder. That is what impacts emerging leaders. Leaders and teachers must do more than merely teach through a prescribed course; they must share their hearts and lives with their growing leaders. Jesus did not withdraw from “ordinary” people and only focus on the “more important” leaders He was building.

If we can successfully change our thinking on this issue – if we can reconnect a leader’s responsibility to do leadership work with his responsibility to build leaders – the fruit will be considerable improvement in both the quality and the quantity of our emerging leaders.

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