Leaders are born, right?  

August 1, 2022 | | GNJ News, NEWSpirit, Bishop's Relay Column

Dear GNJ Leaders,

I continue to be grateful for your leadership in your congregation and the larger church. Your gifts and leadership are leading us forward. As we look to engage more deeply in growing faith and developing vital sustainable mission congregations, leadership is essential to God’s plans for us. Today I want to talk with you about how leaders develop.

Throughout my ministry and leadership, people have invariably asked me how I knew something or where I learned to lead. From that time forward, I have become a student of leadership development. There are many things that are important to the success of a congregation, ministry, or organization but one is key: and that is leadership.

Some say leaders are born. Don’t believe them. Leadership is not biological. It is shaped and honed over time. Some rise to be very good leaders. These are generally the leaders that failed early and often and became better by learning, taking on new challenges and are open to being coached. These are leaders who are hungry to improve their competency to lead. Leadership is a competency that is learned, practiced, and improved.   

How do leaders develop competency?

Often the church has relied on providing content and information to develop leaders. We send people to workshops and seminars, provide books for them to read, and the latest videos to view. Many are frustrated after participating in these experiences. They report they already knew the material taught or are things they have tried before. They find the workshops focused on theory and rarely offer practical steps for implementation.

Experience has taught us that providing information alone does not work. Becoming a competent leader takes a lot more than information.

Do people know how to learn?

YES!!! Ask a person something they do well, and they will tell you how they learned it. Most often they share the same core experiences – the individual wanted to learn and had a goal of becoming good at knitting, cooking, bowling, sailing, excel spreadsheets, teaching, writing, or any other trade, role, or hobby you can think of. Generally, there are five keys to learning.

  1. First Key to developing better leaders is that the person wants to improve in an area of leadership. Leadership development begins by identifying what people want to learn about leadership. The best leaders take time to learn about the subject. Generally, when they learn using methods of their preferred learning style, they learn best. Some like to learn by reading, some by listening, some by watching, and some by doing. We all have our own learning styles.
  2. Second Key to developing better leaders is letting people tell you how they learn. Assisting the individual in developing their learning plan that is applicable to their learning style and context has a much better chance of success.
  3. Third Key to developing better leaders is applying what you learn right away. Applying the information right away is key to learning and growing. This includes applying the learning right in the workshop.
  4. Fourth Key to developing better leaders is taking risks, making mistakes, and using a coach to understand and work through the challenges. The individual encountered a challenge that required practice, a mentor or coach, and further learning.
  5. Fifth Key to developing better leaders is a new and harder challenge once the leader has overcome the initial challenge. The individual continues to practice the skill and once the leadership skill is developed, the individual is given a new challenge.

Ironically, this is the same process Jesus used to disciple his disciples. Jesus taught, challenged, sent, and coached his disciples in living their faith among society. This learning process has been around for thousands of years. Why? Because it works. Unfortunately, the church has relied only on providing information and workshops. Helpful but not effective if it is the only strategy used. Leaders are developed over time using a process.

Leadership Development Process

GNJ continues to strengthen our ministry to develop leaders using the following process:

a. People learn what they feel motivated to learn. Beginning with the leader’s interests about their role and work assists in the learning process.

b. Clarity about a leader’s role and outcomes helps a leader focus their learning on things that matter to their effectiveness.

c. Content, information, and understanding are essential for a leader but do not develop competency. People develop leadership skills and competency by practicing, executing, and receiving feedback.

d. Challenges accelerate learning and competency when matched with support such as coaching, consultation, cohort groups, and mentoring.

e. A leader’s competency grows through the following process and the process does not necessarily occur in the same order for every person.

f. A leader identifies an area they want to improve.

g. A leader engages in learning about a particular leadership area by any of the following: reading, attending a workshop or seminar, watching videos, observing others.

h. A leader challenges them self or receives a challenge from a supervisor, coach, or mentor to make progress in their leadership by helping their church/organization improve in an area of ministry.

i. The leader develops a personal plan and/or an organizational/ministry plan with the congregation/organization to improve an area of ministry.

j. The leader and the congregation/organization leaders receive coaching, consultation, and problem solving to achieve the goals of the plan.

k. Successes are celebrated.

l. Successes and challenges are evaluated for continual improvement.

m. The leader is given another opportunity to grow through the next right challenge.

n. The development process of (a) through (h) start over again.

GNJ leadership is preparing to assist your congregation through our discernment process as we emerge from the pandemic to assist your congregation to become an even more vital sustainable mission congregation. All our Pathway programs develop leadership skills as we assist you in developing your congregation. You can find more information here on our webpage https://www.gnjumc.org/pathways/ or contact Resource Manager, Megan McKay, MMckay@gnjumc.org.

Thank you for leading in The United Methodist Church. We look forward to working with you as we together deepen faith, grow vital sustainable mission congregations, and recruit and develop transformational leaders.

Keep the faith!

Bishop John Schol

The United Methodists of

Greater New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania

Equipping transformational leaders for 

New Disciples | Vital Congregations | Transformed World