November 14, 2016

Developing Next Generation Leaders

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A Note from Luminex: The blog post below comes from Rev. Dr. Tom DeVries, who serves as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. We are blessed to have Tom share critical insights about developing next generation leaders. Enjoy!

Bobb Biehl has done some of the best work around strategic planning for leaders and organizations. His strategic planning arrow is the best planning tool I have ever used. In his book, Leading with Confidence, Bobb identifies leaders as:

  • Knowing what to do next.
  • Knowing why that’s important.
  • Knowing how to bring appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.

As leaders we should be able to share what we are doing next, why that’s important, and how we are deploying the appropriate resources to accomplish it. Acquiring talent, growing people, and developing leaders – many of us would say these are priorities – but they are not always a part of our what or why: what’s next and why it’s important. Often, I think we wonder why we are short on the people resources we need when it comes time to implement the what and the why and integrate them with the how. Equipping others to lead is certainly part of our how. People resources are critical for us as leaders. Leadership development is the long-term investment that takes significant effort to get up and running, but once in place, will bring tremendous returns on investment and dividends.

Developing leaders is helping people courageously bring themselves to grow as the leaders God created them to be; but the key, is to reach back and reach down to raise up the next generation of emerging leaders. The Wall Street Journal has a number of how-to resources online. One of their how-to guides is “How to develop future leaders.” They provide six keys to leadership development:

  • Rotate people through different jobs: Firsthand experience and exposure to new things offer opportunities to gain new expertise.
  • Challenge them with unfamiliar jobs: Provide assignments that stretch people to move them beyond their skill level.
  • Create mentoring programs: Establish developmental relationships.
  • Ensure participants get frequent feedback and coaching: Provide support so emerging leaders are stretched, but don’t break.
  • Tap veteran’s advice: Continue to grow the knowledge base, especially from retired workers or leaders.
  • Allow participants to wash out: Not every emerging leader will have what it takes, and this is a tough one in the church.

Developing leaders is helping people courageously bring themselves to grow as the leaders God created them to be. So when does leadership development start, and how can we start early to bring new spiritual leaders on board in ministry? The Center for Creative Leadership did a study on developing next generation emerging leaders. The study surveyed 462 global leaders and found that 90 percent of those surveyed said that leadership development should begin before the age of 18. Leaders felt that all youth should have leadership education, exposure, and experience as part of their overall developmental process. Each leader was shown a list of 24 competencies and was asked to choose the top three qualities needed to become a leader in the past, the present, and the future. They said 20 years ago young leaders needed (in this order):

  • Technical mastery (59 percent)
  • Self-motivation and discipline (46 percent)
  • Confidence (32 percent)
  • Effective communication (31 percent)
  • Resourcefulness (20 percent)

By contrast, they said today’s next generation of leaders should have:

  • Self-motivation and discipline (44 percent)
  • Effective communication (40 percent)
  • Learning agility (29 percent)
  • Self-awareness (26 percent)
  • Adaptability/versatility (22 percent)

The only two common competencies between leaders 20 years ago and today are self motivation/discipline and effective communication. Learning agility, self-awareness, and adaptability/versatility are all new leadership skills for today’s leaders. But the thing I found interesting was that they didn’t leave it there. These global leaders were also asked about what they think the most important leadership competencies will be ten years from now. Here is the list that they gave:

  • Adaptability/versatility (29 percent)
  • Communicate effectively (26 percent)
  • Learning agility (24 percent)
  • Multicultural awareness (22 percent)
  • Self-motivation/discipline (20 percent),
  • Collaboration (20 percent).

Then the global leaders were asked to reflect on two questions about the next generation of leaders. First, what excites leaders most about the next generation? And second, what concerns leaders most about the next generation? The things that excited them included:

  • Comfort and skill with technology and social networks for information and connectivity,
  • Creativity, openness, and fresh ideas, multicultural and global awareness and tolerance of difference,
  • Adaptability, willingness to learn, and acceptance of change,
  • Confidence and willingness to take a stand and challenge the status quo,
  • Ability to collaborate and work across boundaries,
  • Strong sense of ethics, service-oriented leadership, and desire to make a difference.

The things that concerned them included:

  • Unjustified and unrealistic sense of entitlement,
  • Need for instant gratification and affirmation,
  • Inability to communicate effectively face-to-face and over-dependence on technology,
  • Weak work ethic and focus/commitment/drive; not self-motivating, lack of decision-making skills,
  • Lack of a strong sense of values, ethics, and social responsibility,
  • Overconfidence and inability to accept input or feedback.

Let’s go back to our definition of leadership development one more time: Developing leaders is helping people courageously bring themselves to grow as the leaders God created them to be. Finding space and intention, time and proximity, to help young and emerging leaders learn, to walk alongside them and provide direction, to offer encouragement, and give feedback— these are the components it takes to mobilize new leaders.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in leadership development is to provide a leadership training event—one that is really nothing more than an orientation—and think you’ve done your job. To set these new leaders loose, on their own without any on-the-job training, and simply say: if they run into any problems, they know where to find us, is to do them a disservice. I think we’re all probably guilty of doing this. The truth is, it takes time to get people started as leaders, and no initial orientation can cover all the things a new leader needs to know. That’s why many of my leadership development processes last many months. They are deep and personal. First, laying a foundation of competence and then looking at multiplication of leaders as a sign of mature leadership. Jesus didn’t give the Sermon on the Mount and walk away, believing the disciples had it mastered. Developing leaders takes time, modeling, close proximity, space for questions and responses, in-the-moment insights, focused activity, and opportunity. It happens life-on-life. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about investing in next generation leaders. They want to be invested in. They want to be coached and mentored. They want to do life-on-life. Future leaders need to be developed differently, and future leaders are learning through the experiences of today.

Three questions for reflection:

1. As you think through raising leaders for the next generation, do you feel excited or do you feel concerned? How does your own experience or observation verify or validate your assessment?

2. What is the most significant thing you are doing in your context to raise up and develop the next generation of leaders?

3. What is the biggest challenge you are facing in developing emerging leaders?

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