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When people ask what I think the best leadership tool is today, they’re expecting me to respond with a particular book, program or course. While all those are helpful none of them rank at the top of my list. The one thing that produces the greatest leadership development results every single time is hands-on work under the watchful eye of a mentor.

If you want to develop someone to be a small group leader, then put them in your small group and start giving them the tasks of a small group leader. If you want someone to be a manager, then bring them along side you and start giving them the tasks of a manager. If you want someone to be a worship leader, bring them along side you and give them the tasks of a worship leader.

But wait!!! They’re not ready!! Exactly! That’s why you give them the tasks before you give them the title. There’s nothing like the messy soil of failure to learn how to lead well. For example, the best way to teach a young leader how to lead a meeting is let them lead a meeting while you watch. Then immediately afterward discuss with them what they did well and what they could do better. This type of coaching has a powerful impact on learning.

Each baseball season a whole new crop of youngsters line up to play the game for the first time. Months before they ever take the field for a game, they start practice with a coach who guides them each step along the way. Each practice they go through a series of repetitions learning to throw, catch and swing. Then when the pre-season of practice is over, and it’s game time these little rookies take their positions on the field with a new level of confidence and competence. The coach’s observations and feedback have transformed their skills and readied them for the game.

Remember it’s not experience that produces the transformation, its the evaluated experience that makes the difference. What hands-on experience can you give your leaders this week that will give them the swings at the plate they need to develop into great leaders?

While they may not say it out loud, many people feel like they don’t have time for leadership development. This mentality underscores a fundamental misunderstanding that training leaders always necessitates long hours of teaching and instruction.

Each day there are golden opportunities all around us we that can leverage as teachable moments. But if we’re not looking for them we may totally miss them. They come in the form of a conversation in the hallway, someone popping into your office to ask a quick question or a casual conversation in the middle of a ministry event. These “teachable moments’ can take place every day if we simply take the time to look for them.

When someone walks into your office frustrated because they can’t seem to complete an important project. Their frustration has created the perfect soil to plant a leadership principle. Now all you have to do is speak into that moment. One small principle given at the right time can sink into their thinking and stay forever.

I will never forget the time I was overwhelmed striving to fulfill a portion of the vision God had given me for my ministry. One of my key leaders sat me down and said, “Mac if it were easy to be great, everyone would be doing it.” That simple phrase radically transformed my perspective and gave me the leadership fortitude to push forward despite the challenges and opposition. That phrase comes back to me anytime I’m feeling defeated, and it pushes me forward.

A simple principle, idea, or concept spoken at the right moment can give your trainee a totally new perspective and change the way they lead.

Here’s a simple formulate for maximizing on this type of leadership development golden opportunities.

  • Listen closely to their frustration or challenge
  • Ask questions to get greater understanding of why they’re frustrated and solutions they’ve already tried.
  • Ask them what options they feel they have to overcome their challenge.
  • Affirm what they’re doing right
  • Share insights from your leadership experience that will add value to their leadership skill
  • Ask them what leadership lesson their learning
  • Have them write down key next steps that will help them put into practice what they’re learning.

Look for some golden leadership development opportunities this week, you may be surprised by how many you will find.

Ask someone to name their weaknesses, and they fire off a laundry list of shortcomings without hesitation. But ask what they’re good at, and many tend to struggle for an answer. People struggle to identify their strengths for two reasons:

1. They’re embarrassed. Insecurities can keep us from admitting when we’re good at something.

2. They don’t recognize it as a strength. It’s easy for to see others strengths, but it’s not always easy to see our own.Sometimes we’re good at something naturally and for that reason we’re unaware that they are good at it.  A few months ago a friend mentioned a strength he had observed in my leadership. It caught me off guard because it was a behavior I knew it was something I did, but never considered to be a strength. Because he pointed it out, I now try to develop and practice this more intentionally.

It’s tempting when doing leadership development to identify weakness and try to help them grow from a three to and eight. But your time will be much better invested if you help the leader develop his or her strengths.

Try this exercise next time you meet with one of your staff members or someone you’re developing. Ask the following questions:

  • Name 5 to 7 projects or goals you’ve been working on for the past four weeks. Write a list on the whiteboard.
  • Where have you felt surges of energy during the past four weeks? What were you doing when you felt it?
  • What fruit or results have you seen in the past four weeks? What are the specific things you did to contribute to that outcome?
  • To what do you attribute those results, be specific? What response have you seen from others as you did this work?
  • Reverse engineer what you did well. Think about what you did well and why. Write down the skills you used to accomplish those things.
  • What do you learn about your strengths from these observations?
  • What are two or three things that you can put into practice over the next 30 days to sharpen that strength?

When you take someone through this process, there are three outcomes.

  • They will develop their strengths
  • They will begin to use the strengths with more intentionality.
  • It will increase their ability to develop others in that particular strength area.