105. How do you spot leadership potential?

The bible suggests that the state of a nation is influenced strongly by the leaders it puts in place.  When Israel installed a good king, the nation was prosperous and flourished.  When a bad king took over, the nation went downhill. We see the results of good and bad leaders in our families, teams, bases and ministries right across the world. 

I know that you can’t just accept the results of surveys, but there does seem to be an overwhelming agreement that people don’t trust their bosses – for instance in the USA, surveys suggest it is 82% of employees!  If you google ‘my boss is’, or my manager is, the top hits will be things like – my boss is crazy, mean, bullying me…  Or my manager is lazy, hates me, is rude to me….  It is also thought that up to 50% quit their jobs because of their bosses.  You know the old saying – ‘people join companies and quit bosses.’  I wonder if that is true in YWAM?  Do people love YWAM, the vision, the opportunities, the adventure but leave due to poor leadership?

As Mark Twain allegedly noted, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So is there some way of identifying the good leaders right from the start and avoiding the fallout from leaders who’s dark side will bring negative consequences.

Part of the problem is that we may have some wrong beliefs about leadership.  I remember when I first joined YWAM I heard one leader talk about the key ingredients in leadership being FAT – faithful, available and teachable.  These are good qualities, but these are requirements for every disciple. These days it seems we are moving toward believing that ‘anyone can be a leader and that it’s largely dependent on the situation whether they succeed or fail. So, in the right circumstances, developing the right skills, anyone can lead.  Personally, I am not so sure!

One of the big questions is Are leaders born or made? The answer of course is both.  We inherit personality, gifting and intelligence which has a major role in the leader we become.  Nurture though will make a huge difference in how we put those characteristics into practice or not.  There are also a lot of leadership skills that can be learned.  Leaders will have different levels of capacity and it is always important to know your limits.  As you begin leading a ministry, you soon discover over time if your leadership is more local, national or international. 

Who becomes a leader? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London says, ‘Although leaders come in many shapes, a few personality characteristics consistently predict whether someone is likely to emerge as a leader. As the most widely cited meta-analysis in this area shows, people who are more adjusted, sociable, ambitious, and curious are much more likely to become leaders.” 

In YWAM, we have our own set of qualities we are looking for.  We have a high regard for developing vision and so we tend to look for a gift in seeing the big picture, identifying a clear goal and having faith for its implementation.  Because we also have a high value of relationships and flexibility, we want to see the gift of networking and the recruiting of teams. So, the context from which you are looking for potential leaders, will make a difference in the leaders you pick out of the crowd as those with potential.  Other organisations with different value systems will therefore place higher priority on other traits like having a degree in a certain field or being a certain age.

The measure of leader effectiveness?  Tomas also shares that ‘good leaders help the team perform well, have integrity which enables them to establish a fair and just team culture and generally have more emotional intelligence, which enables them to stay calm under pressure and have better people skills.’  So, this suggests that having seen potential leadership gifting, we need to give opportunity and see how their gifts are put into practice over a period of time – perhaps a one to two-year period.  The complication here is that one leader will excel in a pioneer situation and another in an established situation.  Change the context of both these leaders and neither of them does well!  So, the effectiveness of a leader can only be taken into account when it is evaluated in the right context.  Think of Winston Churchill excelling in a wartime leadership role but not doing so well in a time of peace. Context matters.

Realising Potential:  Some people have incredible potential but for one reason or other, don’t make the grade.  In Robert Clinton’s timeline teaching, he goes into great lengths to indicate the reasons many drop out in their ministry development phase. 

Hebrews 11 reminds us that there were ‘many of whom the world is not worthy’ and who were martyred or stopped from fulfilling their calling.  They were taken out!

There are many others, who have great potential but perhaps like Solomon, take on the wrong priorities, get swayed off track into pride and self-reliance, and never reach the effectiveness that the Lord had in mind for them. Others having made progress and a measure of success, get comfortable and plateau and fail to reach the true potential they possess.  So, the road to realising potential is not an easy one.

God always calls us on the basis of our potential and not on our achievements, otherwise not many of us would make it!  Think of David who was called as a shepherd boy.  He hadn’t accomplished anything in terms of leading people, but all the traits of a potential leader were there as he protected his sheep by killing the lion and the bear. He put those same characteristics into practice to lead Israel.  Think of Moses who had failed miserably and run for his life from Egypt.  Or Gideon from the least in his family and the least tribe in Israel!  So many start life with obstacles in their way but they push through the circumstances to believe that God can empower them and use them.

Society has been changing and so with that change comes a new set of traits that are required for emerging leaders.  I believe in this present age that emerging leaders will require more relational skills, empathy, creativity and technological savvy than the previous generations.  We live in an age of communication and old styles of functioning won’t work anymore.  So, culture and society have an impact on potential too.

In summary, in searching for potential leaders in the YWAM context, I am still looking for those who are willing to take initiative, are comfortable with responsibility and step out of the boat to take risks and see if they can walk on the water. I look for those who have some resilience to press through difficulties, who aren’t expecting instant results and have a passion in their hearts to keep going.  I am looking for those who are willing to serve and can take others with them, develop them, bring ownership and multiply what they are doing.  I am looking for those who understand today’s culture and use its tools and technology effectively. I am looking for those with a heart after God, who have spiritual leadership and know how to inspire and spur others on to great exploits in the kingdom.

Until next month,


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