October 9, 2017

Equipping Leaders for Success

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Leadership formation is the key to cultural change and organizational flourishing.  There, I said it.  It feels good to get that off my chest. And, when I say “leadership formation,” I mean that in two distinct but deeply connected ways.

  • First, established leaders must be continually forming, reforming, and transforming. Good leaders embrace their own evolution, and pursue their own growth.
  • Second, emerging leaders must be formed through intentional investment in their lives by more established leaders. Their formation depends in large part on the accompaniment of those who are further down the leadership path.

Leaders must live into the first one (self-formation) in order to be in any kind of position to do the second one well (others-formation).  However, for the purposes of this blog post I’m going to focus on the second: equipping emerging leaders for success.  And, specifically, I’m going to focus on that last word: SUCCESS.

To equip an emerging leader for success, the first thing that you have to do is define success so that both of you know what you are aiming for.  I am enthusiastic about all of the energy and resources that are beginning to be dedicated to apprenticeship models of leadership formation.  But, if you’re going to have an apprentice, you should define what success looks like for them by answering questions like these first:

  • What does a successful leader look like in our context?
  • What are the core characteristics of a successful leader?
  • What must a successful leader know?
  • What must a successful leader be able to do?
  • How do they do the things they know how to do?
  • How does a successful leader make people feel?
  • What does a successful leader’s life outside the office look like?
  • How does a team that they are leading function?

We have to answer questions like these first because the answers to these questions define success.  If we don’t know what success looks like, then we won’t know how to get there, or how to help someone else get there.

Here are a few things that I want leaders that I am mentoring to do and be:

  • Seek the wisdom of others, and remain humble.
  • Have the courage to do the right thing in the right way, even when it’s difficult.
  • Lead from love, rather than from ambition, anger, a desire to prove yourself, or any of the other unhealthy fuels that can propel us.
  • Be willing and able to look inward, assessing your own biases, motives, and tendencies to use your power to control others rather than serve them.
  • Be continually thinking about multiplication and reproducibility.

I use this list as a guide to create opportunities for both of us to engage in growth in these areas.  For instance, if my apprentice is working on a project for the neighborhood in which our building is located, I’ll ask:

  • Are you doing something yourself that you could be training someone else to do?
  • Is the thing you’re creating reproducible? Could another congregation look at this and say, “We could do something like that!”
  • Are you measuring your success based on what you have accomplished, or based on what the people you are coaching are accomplishing?
  • With whom are you collaborating?
  • Who needs to be around the decision-making table but isn’t?
  • What is surprising you, and how are you integrating that new learning?
  • Do you have someone that you’re equipping as you work together?
  • Why are we doing this project? What do we hope to accomplish?
  • If this project succeeds, what will be your reaction?
  • If this project fails, what will be your reaction?

When I see my apprentices moving toward integrating the characteristics from the lists above, everyone wins.  They win, I win, our organization wins, the neighborhood wins, and God’s Kingdom wins.

Defining success also aids in accountability, and by that I mean my accountability.  My apprentice can look at this list and tell me whether or not I’m leading him or her toward these things.  The tendency to use an apprentice like cheap labor is common and incredibly counterproductive.  Think of an apprentice as a future version of you, with upgrades.  Treat them as such, and they have a good chance of getting there.  But, without a clear sense of what success looks like, we surrender to the inertia of organizational systems and idiosyncrasies, and everyone loses.

So, the first step toward equipping leaders for success is to set some hopeful, visionary, guiding principles that define success. 

The second step is to set them as a target before you.  Celebrate them when you see them lived out, correct them gently in others when they’ve missed the mark, and confess them when you yourself have failed at them.

That’s the third step; lead with your life.  Perhaps the greatest teacher for your apprentice is your own willingness to admit failure, face it head on, and correct it.  That lesson will stick with them forever, as will the corresponding value it points toward.

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