As a Christian leadership coach, I’m always looking for resources to increase by knowledge and broaden my understanding of leadership development so that I might better serve my clients. While many helpful resources exist, I find myself returning repeatedly to one, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development by Dr. J. Robert Clinton.
After studying hundreds of leaders from three categories — historic, biblical, and contemporary — Dr. Clinton maps the leader’s journey, identifying five key leadership development phases: Phase I: Sovereign Foundations, Phase II: Inner-Life Growth, Phase III: Ministry Maturing, Phase IV: Life Maturing, and Phase V: Convergence. The model is built on an underlying assumption, “Ministry flows out of being.”
To contextualize each of these phases, let’s start with the author’s definition of leadership:
A dynamic process over an extended period of time in various situations in which a leader utilizing leadership resources and by specific leadership behaviors, influences, the thoughts and activities of followers toward accomplishment of aims usually mutually beneficial for leader, followers, and the macro context of which they are a part. A biblical leader is defined as a person with God-given capacity and God-given responsibility to influence a specific group of God’s people towards His purposes for the group.
We will briefly examine each of these phases and a few powerful questions you might find helpful in the coaching process:
Phase I: Laying a Biblical Foundation
In this phase, God is laying the foundations in the leader’s life. In this phase, God is providentially working through a leader’s family, historical events, and environment, even if they were not godly influences.
Dr. Clinton contends that this begins at birth. It is often difficult to see the importance of these events until later phases. According to the author, the leader’s “primary lesson is to learn to respond positively and take advantage of what God has laid in these foundations…Ministry activity or fruitfulness is not the focus. God is working primarily in the leader.”
A biblical example of this is Joseph (Genesis 37), who dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. Joseph shared his dream with his brothers (not a smart move), who sold him to Midianite traders. It would not be until years later that Joseph would see the fulfillment of his calling.
I frequently see similar scenarios play out in the lives of young leaders. Sometimes the individual has had an encounter with God, during which God speaks to the leader and reveals His calling on the leader’s life. Other times the leader’s calling unfolds over time. In my experience, young leaders mistakenly assume they will begin to walk in that calling immediately, when in fact, it may take years of preparation.
As someone who works with a number of 20- and 30-somethings, I see this often. When coaching these clients, I find questions like these helpful:
- How is God conforming you to His image through this experience?
- How does this shape your image of God? Your image of yourself?
- How did you experience God in this experience/event?
Phase II: The Inner-Life Growth Phase
In Phase II, a leader may begin serving in some leadership capacity at his or her local church. Formal training, such as attending seminary or serving an apprenticeship, also occurs in this phase. While it may appear that leadership training is the focus, a closer look reveals that the real training is occurring in the heart of the person.
Dr. Clinton explains, “The God-given capacity to lead has two parts: giftedness and character. Integrity is the heart of character.” In this phase, God tests the leader in three areas—integrity, obedience, word (the leader’s ability to understand or receive a word from God personally and then allow God to work it out in his or her life.
The author cites Daniel 1:8-21 as a biblical example. “Daniel made up his mind not to let himself become ritually unclean by eating the food and drinking the wine of the royal court.” Daniel was under pressure to violate his conviction, but his integrity held. It then says, “God gave the four young men knowledge and skill in literature and philosophy. In addition, he gave Daniel skill in interpreting visions and dreams.
When coaching a leader in Phase II, powerful questions like these hold tremendous potential for inner transformation:
- What does obedience to God look like in this situation?
- What is God’s invitation in this circumstance?
- What has God spoken to you about this?
The lessons learned in these phases are the first in a lifetime of lessons that shape the heart and soul of the leader.
Check back later this week or next for part two of this series, in which I’ll share more about Phase III and how to take a coach-approach to leadership development in each of these phases.
What has helped you as you’ve coached leaders? Share in the comments section below.
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