Have you noticed that a few leaders continue to grow and flourish while most seem to stall at some point along the way? All leaders have a capacity for influence, and God is constantly developing that capacity within the leader. However, most leaders reach a point in their ministry and personal growth where their development seems to be arrested. Some press through. Many do not. Having gained some degree of skill and experience, and even success – their growth seems to stop.
In his book, The Making of a Leader, Dr. J. Robert Clinton notes that leaders generally fall into one of four categories
- Dropouts — quite a few
- Disciplined leaders — a few (those who disqualify themselves in some way – sexual, financial, relational missteps, etc.)
- Plateaued leaders — the majority of leaders
- Those who grow and finish well — some
These plateaued leaders become content with their current capacity and ministry, without discerning their need to grow and develop further. They become “comfortable” and fail to realize they have ceased to flourish. And a leader, who is not growing, is actually in decline.
Ask yourself if these could be true for you:
- Weary of ministry and prolonged feeling of being worn out
- Declining initiative toward new assignments and challenges
- Decreased vision for the future
- Desire to maintain, not press for new ministry opportunities
- Lack of enthusiasm for recruiting and challenging future leaders.
- Reduced dependence upon the Lord and Spirit-empowering that once characterized your life
Answering ‘YES’ could be a sign that there is a need for further personal assessment. It could also mean that your leadership has reached a plateau.
This can be normal without cause for concern. A leader may plateau many times in his life for good reasons such as consolidating after a period of intense personal or ministry growth. Naturally, there needs to be a respite before climbing the next mountain. This is wisdom. It is also possible to have reached the potential that God has made for you. You are fully engaged in the place where God has called you. Plateauing in this way looks very different from plateauing due to sin, or lack of vision, or burnout.
If you find yourself in an unhealthy plateau, what should you pursue to reignite your leadership? First of all, take ownership and resist the urge to excuse or shift responsibility.
Here are the characteristics of those who press through the plateaus and finish strong. Seek to align yourself with these:
Leaders who finish the race strong have their eyes on the ultimate prize. They view present ministry in terms of a lifelong legacy. Today matters because they see the long term and far reaching implications. They live for the Larger Story and not just their own story.
The life of a growing leader is marked by times of personal revival, faith stretching experiences from God, renewed vision, etc. These times may come unexpected and sovereignly from the Lord. These times are also to be looked for and pursued. Persevering leaders display a healthy discontent and seek for more. It is often too easy to rest in past accomplishments and past learning, and become slack.
Leaders are disciplined in other areas of life but this certainly marks their spiritual lives. Leaders don’t drift to their desired destinations of spirituality and effectiveness. Writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Donald Whitney are very helpful. Not everyone will exhibit the same disciplines, but all are disciplined in one way or another.
The Apostle Paul was aware of personal danger and the advantage of personal discipline:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it not to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
He also challenged his young apprentice Timothy in a similar way:
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
This is one of the more consistent traits of leaders who finish well. They are constantly learning. They have books in hand, pen and paper, and questions waiting to be asked. While others rest on past knowledge and experience, they continue to press forward.
Mentors and coaches enable us to move forward at key times. They help build bridges from where we are to our desired goals. They provide the courage and stimulus to get out of ruts and reach new heights in our personal, spiritual, and vocational lives.
Pass it on
They have eyes for the next generation and are intent on building into it. As John Piper says, “If you are not planning your succession, you are planning your enshrinement.” Developing new leaders is a top priority for those that finish well.
Action – Where to from Here?
Not every leader has all of these qualities, but those who finish strong reflect these traits to one degree or another. Unless you experience God’s ongoing development, you are not able to help others develop to their full potential.
- How are you developing as a leader?
- What are ways that you need to be challenged?
- Of the six characteristics, where are you strong, and where do you need help?
- Where do you need to challenge the status quo in your life and leadership?
These concepts are adapted from Dr. J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader
Questions designed by Bryan Brown, PCC, www.coachingtolead.com