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16 Mar '12

Eleven things your younger leaders need to learn

Those of us who lead at any level are responsible for raising up the next generation of leaders behind us. Frequently we focus on leadership skills. Just as important, if not more, however is the development of the inner life of a leader from which their leadership will emerge.

I would like to suggest that there are eleven practices or disciplines that all leaders must have in order to be effective. If we can help the next generation leaders understand and live out these practices they will be well served. If they don't get these things they will not lead well.


  1. The inner life of a leader will determine how good a leader they become. They can have all the skill in the world but if the inner life is not rock solid and continuously paid attention to they will not succeed as a spiritual leader. The hidden discipline of developing the inner life always comes before the public role of leadership.
  2. Personal humility is a non-negotiable for good leadership. True humility is clear about what strengths we have as well as our weaknesses and therefore our need for others. Humility serves others while pride serves self. Because spiritual leadership is other focused and Jesus centered it must come from a place of personal humility.
  3. Suffering and pain is a major way that God molds great leaders. It is when we are challenged that we grow and the test of a spiritual leader is whether they grow in their faith during hard times or move away from God in disillusionment. There is no way to effective leadership without the molding and forging of hard times. If you are going to lead, expect it and make the most of it.
  4. Leaders actively embrace spiritual transformation. God can only use people to bring others closer to Him who are themselves allowing God to transform them. Transformation of their hearts to understand and live out grace. Transformation of their minds to think like Jesus thinks. Transformation of life priorities to align our lives with His and transformation of our relationships to see people as Jesus sees them and love people as Jesus loves them.
  5. Our shadow side must be managed. All of us have a shadow side. It is the opposite of our strengths and it is those areas where we struggle with sin or negatively impact others. We cannot eliminate our shadow side but we can manage it by understanding it and modifying our behaviors so that they don't hurt others. Leaders who don't manage their shadow side will never lead well.
  6. Emotional intelligence matters and needs to be developed. Healthy EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is one of the most important traits of a leader. It allows them to understand how they are perceived by others, to differ with others while staying relationally connected, hear feedback without defensiveness and negotiate conflict in a healthy manner. Poor EQ is the number one reason that leaders fail.
  7. I can only lead from who God made me to be. God can use any personality style to lead and we will never be successful emulating someone else's leadership style. We can learn from others but we can only lead out of our own God given wiring. We must develop a leadership style that is consistent with our personality and wiring rather than emulate others.
  8. Leaders live intentional lives. Accidental living does not make for a good leader because it is a life of reaction rather than a proactive life of considered intentionality. Leaders live intentionally so that they accomplish what God wants them to accomplish personally and with others. There is a discipline to a good leader's life that is based on the important things rather than the ancillary things.
  9. Leaders are clear about what matters. There are many things that vie for our attention personally and organizationally. Leaders are able to identify what is truly important and not be distracted by the unimportant. They are clear themselves and help those they lead become clear. Clarity of life and mission are marks of a good leader.
  10. Leaders live with transparency. The more transparent a leader is about both success and failure with others the more they are followed, respected and lead from authenticity. Authentic lives, where words match action, where we don't pretend to be something we are not and are open about our strengths and weaknesses, failures and accomplishments allows others to see the real us and to lead from a place of authenticity rather than from a place of pretense. 
  11. Leaders guard their hearts. Everything in Christian leadership comes down to the heart. When leaders don't guard their hearts (King Saul) they lose their ability to lead. When they do (David) they lead from a place of health and strength. The Psalms say that David led from integrity of heart and skillful hands. Above all else, leaders guard their hearts on a moment by moment and daily basis.