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The Leader Development Crisis by Dr. Rob McKenna


A Threatening Crisis – The Lack of Leader Development

“What is the number one crisis threatening the future of the Church?” It was a question I asked a senior leader in a recent coaching conversation. Without hesitation he responded, “The deep-seated security of our leaders.”

While we could roll past his response with only a light touch, if we really examine what he meant, it should rattle us. Taking his answer seriously should cause us to pause, to think more deeply, and consider a reformation of our paradigm regarding what it means to develop leaders and thrive as a community. The threat is more than the unprecedented uncertainty or pressure of this season in history. It is about our capacity to develop whole leaders at an entirely different level of depth.

Deep-Seated Leader Development

If leading well represents the ends of leader development, what does it mean to prepare a leader to lead well? Deep-seated leader development is whole leader development. In our efforts to develop leaders, it compels us to move beyond clichés, one-off passes as scripture, and oversimplified, one-size fits all solutions in preparing the next generation to lead. Deep-seated leader development is a personal process of truly seeing leaders and helping them see themselves – integrating the seemingly disparate variables in their whole story in a way that helps them move forward with intention and courage in the midst of a world that is really tough on them.

We know a lot about leader development from several decades of research from leading scholars and practitioners in our field. And, it might surprise many of us to note that the research is anything but contrary to the deeper Gospel messages of leader preparation contained in scripture.

Here is some of what we know. Leaders develop in situations where they are pushed to the edge of themselves, are required to draw on people like never before, and in situations where they are asked to lead at levels of scope they have never experienced before. They develop in the face of good mentors and bad ones, in failures as much as successes, and in situations where those failures or successes will be on display for all of us to watch.

We know that their resilience will be impacted by a variety of factors at play inside of them including their efficacy and confidence, their adaptability and agility, the deep clarity of their purpose, and the network of support that must surround them.

We also know that leading well will require them to bring a necessary mix of personal courage and a sacrificial character. And, beyond their experience and fortitude, the situations they will lead in will bring on feelings of loneliness, questioning, and doubt like never before. In essence, the research suggests that leading is a deeply personal and human experience.

Seeing Leaders

The Gospel story of Jesus and the leaders He prepared isn’t different. Time after time we see Jesus doing something for the disciples that is so rarely done. He asks them questions that get to the heart of their purpose and fortitude. And, when they answer his questions too quickly, he asks them again. He is patient. Even after His resurrection and after the disciples experienced Jesus’s full death and met him after in full life, he comforts them and is present with them in their doubt.

Jesus understood the persecution they would face as leaders of the church and didn’t oversimplify their development to statements, but saw them, questioned them and sat with them in the reality of their overstated confidence prior to their persecution, and then continued to encourage them in the midst of their doubts and despair. Jesus took time with them over several years to develop their capacity and to prepare them to lead, and he saw that they were all different – different personalities, different backgrounds, different purposes they would serve, and different developmental challenges.

The Long-Term Impact on Ministries

While we can work on organizational structures, study the motivations of generations, and talk about revitalizing communities, the key to the thriving of our ministries will always land heavily on leaders. Without those willing to courageously and sacrificially go first, our ministries will flounder and our impact will be capped.

Whether they are businesses, churches, universities, or other transformational organizations, they all start with leaders who have been prepared for the long journey ahead. These are the leaders and teams of leaders with the fortitude to withstand the storms and critics, listen to the Lord and listen to us, and who understand themselves well enough to see how they will respond and what they may need to sacrifice to lead better next time.


Dr. Rob McKenna is the founder and CEO of WiLD Leaders, Inc., creator of the WiLD Toolkit, and served as Chair of Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Research & Development at Seattle Pacific University. He was recently named among the top 30 most influential I-O Psychologists and featured in Forbes, He is also the author of Composed: The Heart and Science of Leading Under Pressure.


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