Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Are Leaders Born or Made?

One of the common questions asked regarding leadership is this, “Are leaders born or made?”  And the answer is, “Yes!”  Here’s my expanded answer to this challenging question — The 3 B’s of Making Leaders!

Born  –   Some people are hard-wired with God-given temperaments, intellects, and natural abilities that will give them the ability to influence others more easily as leaders.  While this God-given ability does allow for easier influence, it does not necessarily mean that the quality of their leadership is better than others who are not so naturally endowed.  These “natural leaders” will also need to grow in their leadership skills in order to utilize these natural strengths to their optimum.

Born Again  –  Some followers of Christ have the God-given spiritual gift of leadership.  In Romans 12:6-8 we have Paul listing several of the spiritual gifts given for serving others in the Body of Christ.  He says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  ‎ If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;  ‎ if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

It is my understanding that all believers in Christ are given at least one spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit.  These gifts are given to us that we might serve others (1 Peter 4:10).  Those ‘gifted leaders’ who have the spiritual gift of leadership will have ability and capacity to lead in other ways than those not gifted will.  But these ‘gifted leaders’  also must develop this leadership gift through careful attention to becoming the best leader they can be for Jesus’ sake.  Note Paul’s reminder to Timothy, ” For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands ” (2 Timothy 1:6).

Built  –  There are certain leadership competencies or skills that can be learned and developed by everyone.  Through practice, feedback, and application everyone can learn to lead to some extent.  Husbands can learn to lead their families, parents can learn to lead their children, and employers can learn to lead their employees.  Though all can learn to lead, the quality of one’s leadership will depend upon our attention to this development.  When compared with others who are the natural or gifted leaders one’s leadership capacity may be less or one may have to work harder to grow in leadership competencies, but you can learn to lead.  In fact, your leadership may surpass those natural or gifted leaders who do not develop themselves.

So….are leaders born or made?  The answer is, “Yes!”  Some are born, some are born again, and some are built!  Are you taking your development as a leader seriously?  Are you seeking to “fan it into a flame?”

Becoming Intentional About Character Development

The powerful impact of a model is [a] common tool used by God to help shape us.   For many of us, people (parents, teachers, pastors, mentors) will be used to positively model character qualities and subsequently build them into our lives.  We will observe how they implement certain character qualities in their lives and then apply these principles in our own.  Sometimes this application is conscious, but many times it comes about because we have been around someone for so long that we unconsciously become like them.  The writer of Proverbs tells us, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20) and “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  A modern proverb states the same principle, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  We become like those with whom we associate.

A wonderful way to learn from the example of others is through reading their biographies.  Reading about the lives and trials of other leaders can inspire and instruct us in relevant areas for our own situations.  Aside from the bible, I have learned more about life and leadership by reading the biographies of leaders than any other source.  Reading the biographies of spiritual, business, political, and military leaders can be a great habit for self-development.  Let me suggest that you begin with the biographies of such great spiritual leaders as William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, J.O. Fraser, Adoniram Judson, D.L. Moody, George Mueller, Dawson Trotman, and Bill Bright.

The teaching and example of a spiritual mentor is another key element in the development and growth of an emerging leader.  More than a model, a mentor builds into your life Christlike character and values.  Asking God to give you someone who can be a positive example and who actively builds into your life can be a great blessing.  Paul selected Timothy to be with him in the work and along the way he built into Timothy’s life what he had learned of Kingdom leadership.  He writes to Timothy in his last letter this exhortation, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings…But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:10-14).

Mentors and other leaders can help develop us in character as well as leadership skills (competencies).  Though both godly character and skills are needed for good leadership, the environment in which they are shaped is very different.  An environment with accountability is necessary for skill transfer and development, but a more relational environment is needed for character formation.  If we mix them up, trying to develop character by imposing accountability, we will not see lasting change.  [A friend has said, “All accountability does is turn us into good liars.”]

[Another] tool that the Lord frequently uses to develop our character is the life situations and circumstances that we find ourselves facing.  How we respond in our hearts in these situations is often much more important than what we finally decide or do.  God is arranging these situations for our continued development and growth.  Rather than being frustrated or discouraged by our trials, we can welcome them as tools being used by God for our good.  If we learn to rest in Him and draw strength from Him in the midst of these times, we will benefit greatly.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

For an emerging leader, one lacking leadership experience, their primary felt need is for leadership skill development.  This is especially true because these skill needs often come with deadlines that must be met.  We have to turn in a strategic leadership plan, but we’ve never done that before, so we seek help in how to create a plan.  We are given responsibility for leading an event, but having little experience with it, we eagerly seek out help for how to lead an event well.  And so it goes, seeking the leadership skills (competencies) necessary to meet the immediate demands of our responsibilities.  The result will be more responsibility and greater influence, for this is the reward of successful leaders.  Thus, the daily busyness of leading crowds out the time needed for intentional character development.

The final outcome of focusing on leadership skills is frequently a leader who in their 40’s has arrived at a pinnacle of influence that is great, but inwardly their character can’t stand the load of their leadership.  The pressure and strains of increased leadership responsibility begin to expose character flaws that have been ignored or covered up for many years.  But now, with greater responsibility, their impact can no longer be set aside.  The ripple effects of their character flaws as manifested in their actions are too great, for they now impact many more people and resources!  Many leaders collapse at the height of their influence as a character weakness is finally exposed and great is the collapse thereof! [i]

Don’t hope that with the passing of time or with increased experience that Christlike character will develop.  Begin today to be intentional about your character development!


[i]   Yeakley, Tom   Growing Kingdom  Character

NavPress  Colorado Springs, CO,  2011  p. 16ff

A Time for Everything!

By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah,  “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you…      Genesis 8:13-17

Noah and family had been on a cramped, damp, and no doubt, smell-filled ark for a year.  He removed the roof of the ark and peering over the edge of the boat he sees dry ground!    “Hallelujah!  It’s time to get off of this boat and put our sandals on that dry turf,” he must have thought or even exclaimed along with his family members.  But the time was yet to be for the departure from their lifeboat.  How frustrating!

A careful reading of the text shows that Noah saw the dry ground on the first day of the first month, but it was not until the 27th day of the second month that God instructed them to disembark.  57 more days of waiting and watching–looking over the deck railing to see dry ground as far as they could see–waiting upon God for His release from their delivery ship.  I wonder what went through Noah’s mind as he waited for God’s time to exit the ark?

Leaders are doers.  We are all about getting things done-and getting them done NOW.  We often can have difficulty when God says to wait.  Wait for what?  It’s dry ground out there!  Let’s get on with this!  If not careful, we can miss a great opportunity to stop, reflect, and wait for the voice of God to speak.  We can miss God’s perfect timing.

Time is easily spent, never to be recovered.  Time is easily wasted, never to be redeemed.  Time is always in short supply for leaders!  “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven,” the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us.  “Yeah, right!  He didn’t have my schedule,” we think.  We leaders are often like the proverbial dog straining at the end of God’s leash, wanting to get on with the job at hand, looking ahead to our new challenges.  Somehow I don’t see Noah anxiously marching up and down the deck of his ark, sighing deeply at his seeming lack of forward movement.

We are all busy people, especially leaders.  But busyness is not our enemy.  Busyness is a morally neutral state.  Being busy is not good, or bad, or purple.  It just means that we have a lot to accomplish each and every day.  In fact, if you don’t want a busy life, don’t lead!  But our busy lives can become a snare for us.  We can allow our full days to lull us into complacency with those things that are incredibly important, but do not have demanding deadlines.

How many Kingdom leaders are coasting upon past bible studies, memory verses, or messages preached long ago because they have let their busy lives crowd out personal time with God?  How many families are neglected because we are unwilling to say ‘no’ to enticing invitations?  God continues to speak, but our iPod volume drowns out His still, small voice.  We don’t recognize the voice of God because we don’t stop long enough to listen.

Elijah, a leader extraordinaire, learned to pay attention to God’s voice, The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper …” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

As Kingdom leaders we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry (not busyness) from our lives in order to sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for Him to speak.  He is not in the fierce wind, the great earthquake, or the raging fire (all of our pressing crises or demanding problems).  He waits for us to stop, look, and listen.  He then gently whispers into our heart His plans for us and our leadership, expecting us to take note and be quick to obey.

So is your leadership walk like one of Noah, patiently waiting for God’s timing to speak–waiting expectantly on Him to guide and direct your path?  Or are you more like the dog straining at the end of the leash, pulling hard against a loving Master?  May you turn down the volume of your hurried life to be able to hear His voice!  And may you have a heart that is quick to obey!

Your First Leadership Team Meeting – Make it a Good One!

There is only one “first meeting” when forming your leadership team–you won’t be able to have a “do-over.”   Therefore, you will want to ensure that it is a success.  It will set the tone and pattern for future team meetings and if done well will create an environment for great teamwork.  Here are some practical ideas for launching your team well at that first meeting.  Some ideas are obviously applicable at any stage of team formation.  Some may fit your team and some not.  Take these ideas like you would eat fish  –  enjoy the meat and discard the bones!

1)  First meetings are important as they set tone, expectations, patterns, and first impressions that are lasting.  So, giving good thought to ensure that it’s a hit is essential.  Come prepared and plan the time well.

2)  As a general outline for all leadership team meetings (especially your first one) think of 3 parts:  business, development, and relationships!  There is not equal time spent for all three, but try to insure that every time together you address these three areas.  The business will always get the most attention for teams form to accomplish a task.  The business items often come with deadlines that demand our attention.  The development and relationship pieces (building community and esprit de corps) are easy to shortcut or minimize their importance.  But to ignore these will be detrimental to your effectiveness and impact as a team in the long-term.

3)  The development part of team meetings should be related to an aspect of leadership and can be varied – from interacting over a bible passage, article, book, or even an entire movie you watch together and then talk about leadership lessons demonstrated, etc.  If leading a team of busy leaders be wise in how much prep beforehand you can expect of the team as all are very busy (i.e. instead of reading and discussing an entire book together, choose one chapter from the book to read and discuss).

4)  Relationships –  for those of us who are more task oriented, this aspect of our meetings can seem like a “waste of time.”  Remember, just because you meet together does not mean that you are building trust relationships on the team!  I’ve done everything from using team building exercises, to having an annual golf tournament with a revolving trophy, to playing board games, party games, going out for a movie (not necessarily leadership oriented), fishing, visiting historical sites, visiting other ministries, etc.  It is only by building deep friendships that go beyond just being on a task-oriented team, building trust through shared experience, that we will be able to create a safe place where we can be real with one another.  The transparency and vulnerability that you model before the team as a team leader will help create this for others on the team.

5)  When you think about these three aspects of every meeting, you realize that you will need to have enough time scheduled for this, in order to have a relaxed pace.  The tendency is just to schedule the business agenda for the meeting and neglect time for development and relationships.  With multi-day meetings I would try to begin by sharing the Word and praying together for an extended time each day.  I would sometimes lead this time or ask others to lead, trying to make the time in the Word interactive.  It can help to begin the first part of our times together with each giving a personal update on life and family – seeking to model the idea that we are important as people, not just the task that we do.  We would often pray for each other during these times.

6)  You are wise to define the purpose of the team as well as expectations.  What will this team accomplish if we all contribute well?  Be sure you don’t have a “hidden agenda” with the answers already decided upon.  No doubt you’ll have some ideas in these areas, but if the team as a whole helps shape this, they will all own it together and will be highly motivated to carry it out.

7)  One thing to discuss is how you will make decisions on the team.  There are several standard decision-making models (a subject for another blog) and you’ll want to clarify how the team will make decisions as you go forward.  I personally believe in “a leader and their team” as opposed to “team leadership” with a participative decision-making style for most daily leadership decisions.  But realize that all decision-making models are appropriate for different times and situations.  This subject can be a development piece for your team members to help them as they lead their own teams in the future.

8)  As you think about setting future goals and plans, you want to insure that the goals are balanced between being realistic, given where you are now, but also faith influenced, having enough growth that they will require the hand of God and His blessing in order to see them accomplished.  Having both aspects and holding them in a dynamic tension will enable you to recruit others to ‘lay down their nets and come with you.’

You only have one ‘first team meeting’ – make it a good one!  And remember, don’t eat the bones!

Even the Energizer Bunny Needs Recharging Eventually!

You know that sick feeling when you turn the ignition switch to On and instead of the motor roaring to life all you hear is the “click…click” of a dead battery. Yes, there had been some recent warning signs…the slow turning over of the engine on cold starts, but you had ignored them because it did start eventually. And besides, you had things to do, important things, and many people were depending upon you.

So, you get on with it…placing the “check out the car battery” on the To-Do List and move forward. But now, here you sit, turning the ignition switch again and again, desperately hoping that the battery will find some lost energy reserve to once again move you toward those important items on your plan today. But it’s all to no avail…the battery is totally dead!

Leaders are often like those dying-dead batteries. We run well for long periods of time giving away ourselves to the demands of our role while all the time running lower and lower on our spiritual, emotional, and physical reserves. Until one day, we try to “start our daily engine” and it only responds with a “click…click…click.” It’s time for some attention to that long-ignored “personal reserve” if we are to continue to lead from an overflow.

Here are some suggestions on how to recharge those personal batteries that may be in need of some attention. Not all will be appropriate for your season of life or person, but reflect on these and see if there isn’t something that could put some needed “juice” into your reserves.

Get some time away from your leadership responsibilities – you’re really not that important!
o Plan your daily and weekly schedule with margin for change and interruption. Don’t book each day full with back-to-back appointments.
o Turn off your cell phone! You’re really not that important!
o Let incoming calls go to voice mail so that you can control when you want to talk on the phone.
o Limit the number of times you check your email each day.
o Do you really need to post to Facebook, Tweet, or respond to every text message immediately?

Get a life outside of your leadership!
o Develop friendships with others not directly related to your leadership role.
o Find some recreation and hobbies – know yourself and what ‘fills your tanks.”
o Take a break / vacation – put it into your schedule just as you do your other important appointments.

Push yourself to learn something new!
o Learning something new and different will stimulate long dormant brain cells and/or muscles, bringing a new sense of progress and perspective.

Do something physically stretching!
o “Stretching” is relative given age, physical condition, habits, etc. Don’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing just because it fits them. Know yourself!

You only have one body and it must last you for the entire length of the trip–so take good care of it. You don’t want to come to the end and say like David Brainerd (missionary to the Delaware Indians) who died at the age of 29, “God gave me a horse to ride and a message to deliver. Now I have killed the horse and can’t deliver the message.”

Post Navigation