Developing a Faith Based Leadership Program: Deciding on the content – Part 1

OK, if you’re following along with me on this, you now have your definition of leadership, have vetted it within your organization and may be starting to hit some conflict and differences of opinion. I AM NOT SURPRISED. Now that you’re getting serious about this leadership development initiative, it’s time you get serious about covering it with some spiritual warfare and serious prayer. You laugh? I’m not kidding. What is the most strategic thing you can do to deepen and broaden your organization’s impact for the Kingdom? Develop leaders… lots and lots of leaders, at every level, in every position. And not just the run of the mill manager type leaders, no, peculiar leaders… who lead like Jesus, who lead with Kingdom lenses. THAT is the most important work you can do for this world and for the impact your organization will have to end poverty, to end injustice. So do not be surprised when this important work suddenly struggles… it’s time to pray, assemble others to pray, keep prayer and discernment front and center to the initiative because inevitably the attacks will come.

As you think about the content of your leadership program… I almost feel sorry for you at this point because of the abundance of “stuff” out there that gets called leadership material AND the number of senior stakeholders that will want to see everything but the kitchen sink thrown into the “leadership development pit”.   You DO need to ensure major stakeholders are on board with the leadership content so it doesn’t migrate into a catch-all training program for everything from financial accounting to project management. And the program content and delivery should reinforce your organization’s core values and determined leadership needs.

Frankly, I think the biggest challenge in organizations isn’t getting people to live out good leadership practices, it’s that your organizational culture doesn’t allow people to live out good leadership practices. You’d be stunned how many times people have told me that Jesus’ model of leadership wouldn’t work in their Christian organization – too passive, too caring, not results-oriented enough, etc. etc. etc.

Funny eh?

I don’t care though, I still teach these principles because God has given us Jesus not only as the ultimate instrument of our redemption on the Cross, but also as the model of redeeming this world to Himself. I find it incredibly sad that many who bear some “Christian” label in the public sphere today don’t resemble anything of Jesus, the Christ, in their words or actions.

But I digress…. Back to recommendations.

OK, here are some generally accepted (across the board) elements for good leadership development programs:

  1. Addressing the spiritual…. For any Christian leadership development program, spiritual formation should be the anchor upon which the whole thing rests because frankly, the stumbles and fumbles of Christian leaders are rarely because they didn’t work enough hours or were bad at tasks…. Its usually a break down in the spiritual core of their life and their leadership stumbles and bumbles are an outflowing of that breakdown.
  2. Mentoring/Coaching – There is high value of individual attention and coaching in leadership programs. I recommend supervisors as coaches (with some coaching training/tips provided) and a senior leader or external leader as mentor. This can also provide a form of accountability to the spiritual formation mentioned in #1.
  3. Team based approach – Learning as part of a group develops an ongoing support relationship. These groups coalesce most successfully when team-building exercises or seminars are incorporated into the design early in the program.
  4. Individual Leadership Plans – Individual Leadership Plans enable each participant to design a learning opportunity to address their capacity building goals. These can be developed with the input of coaches and mentors.
  5. Feedback and Assessment Tools – Performance evaluation tools like 360s on a regular basis so that their feedback isn’t unidirectional between just the participant and their supervisor.
  6. Recognition – There is significance and motivational value of being recognized for their improved work as well as the contributions of those mentoring them.

AND some things to avoid right from the start….

  1. Ensure you are positioning the program as an “expansion of your leadership influence right where you are”. It’s a mistake to position the program as a guaranteed step into a larger leadership role, especially if you don’t have one readily available. I’ve seen this frustrate many a leadership participant all because of the expectations that were set at the outset.
  2. Ensure you bring supervisors into the LD program process.   You may find reluctant supervisors of your leadership program because they are concerned you are grooming their staff to replace them. Be sure to include them in content development (what topics are needed), provide them coaching training and make them an active part of the process.
  3. Lastly, as you think ahead to how you will recognize participants for their completion of the program, don’t forget to recognize the good coaches (supervisors) and mentors. I can’t stress enough that the more people involved in developing leaders in your organization the more you will help to develop a culture of leadership for your organization.

Next up: My recommendations for specific content (topics) in your leadership development program.


About Dr. Beth A. Birmingham

Follower of Jesus, peculiar at times, but not always in the good biblical sense of the word, professor of leadership and international development, walking with people and organizations who end poverty, fight injustice and stand with the vulnerable... a rockin' good group of people!

Posted on July 15, 2016, in Followership, Leadership, leadership development, Servant Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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