A basketball player can benefit from watching videos and going to clinics, but it is the experience in real games that forms the player. The same is true when it comes to developing young and emerging leaders, both in the marketplace and in ministry. In fact, leaders within the Human Resources discipline claim that 70% of leadership development comes through on-the-job experience. More than reading, attending conferences, watching leadership training talks, or even conversing with seasoned leaders, the work does the work of developing a young or emerging leader.
The reality that the work does the work of developing has implications for both seasoned leaders who desire to develop others and those who are hoping to be developed.
For Those Developing Others
You already know that the work develops you because that is likely how you have been most developed. The joys and the challenges of leading have formed you. And yet at the same time, you are not only responsible for developing leaders—you are also responsible for the work itself. Leaders can wrestle with what could happen if you place an emerging leader in a role, so here are a few ways to give work that does the work of developing before giving a new role to someone. In our own development, we crawl before we walk and we walk before we run.
- Utilize a big goal (crawling): Within the existing role of someone you are developing, help the person set a big goal—a goal that seems unachievable and will force him or her to learn new skills or to attempt new actions in alignment with the goal.
- Give a stretch assignment (walking): Outside and in addition to the person’s existing role, give an assignment that will stretch the person. Because the assignment is in addition to the regular role, the person will learn skills of prioritization and delegation. Because the person will be on an assignment that is highly visible, you will have eyes on what the person is doing well and what skills need coaching.
- Invite to lead a new initiative (running): A new initiative does not have the expectations of an existing role, yet it is significant because the energy and focus of the organization is on the new initiative. If the person can run point on the new initiative while remaining in their current role, then the person can move back to their current role once the initiative is complete or if it becomes clear the person was not yet ready. If the new initiative is wildly successful, the person has likely created his or her new role.
For Those Desiring Development
You have read books, listened to podcasts, and attended seminars, but deep down you know that you need more practical experience. You want to put into practice all you have learned. You want to try new things. You want to grow and develop, but you wonder if you will ever be given a shot. Here are three things you can do right now:
- Prove faithful and fruitful in your current role: A poignant question is asked in Jeremiah 12:5:“If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?…” It is wise to prove oneself faithful and fruitful with a smaller role before expecting a bigger one. At times people who say they want more responsibility take their eyes off their current roles as they are looking with envy at others. The best way to get invited to another opportunity is to prove faithful in your current role.
- Focus on what is most important to the organization: If leaders within your ministry or marketplace have announced values or goals, then work to show how your role is championing those values and goals. The leaders have been upfront about what is important, so show how you are able to attach your role to what is critical to the mission of the organization. By doing so, you show that you are able to align actions to mission and values.
- Make yourself available for a stretch assignment: Your organization may not use the term “stretch assignment,” but there are always problems that leaders within your organization are trying to solve, new ideas leaders are wanting to implement, and goals leaders are trying to meet. Listen for those problems, ideas, and goals. When you believe you can help champion one, raise your hand to your leader.