How Can I Develop Leaders When No One’s Ready?

Have you ever looked around your organization for a new leader only to discover that nobody is ready? That can be the most discouraging feeling, but it doesn’t have to be your reality.

Today, I want to talk to you about three ideas you can use to develop those leaders who aren’t quite ready. Before we dive into these ideas, I want to share a concept with you. For those of us who have been in ministry, and I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years now, we know that season of the year, around August and January, when you sort of get sick to your stomach because it’s a new season of ministry ramping up. You look around, you go, “Oh, no, we need more leaders. We don’t have enough leaders,” and it always seems to be that time of year you get that feeling.

It’s also that time of year you start to look around for new leaders to put in those vacant positions. You’re looking around the organization and you go, “Well, he’s not ready. He’s not ready. She’s not ready. Oh, there’s somebody that’s ready,” and we pick that person up and we put them in the leadership position. Then, we go to our senior leader and say, “Hey, I just developed a new leader,” but, really, you didn’t. You just did leadership placement.

What I want you to understand, there’s a big difference between leadership development and leadership placement. I’m afraid that the local church today has really defaulted to a lot of leadership placement rather than leadership development. What I want to do is … To solve this problem, we have to start developing leaders who aren’t ready, so I want to give you three ideas that we can dive into that will help you begin to build those leaders who aren’t quite ready. Stay tuned until the end because I’m going to share a fourth bonus tip, as well. Let’s dive in.

Idea number one is look at people’s potential. See people for what they can be, not just what they are. I think, a lot of times, we just get comfortable looking at people as they are, rather than taking the time to imagine what they could be 12 months from now, 18 months from now. That could make a huge difference, if we begin to look at their potential and imagine what they could be if we develop them over time.

I think it’s interesting when you look at the life of Jesus. He recruited some men who weren’t quite ready. Think about it. In Matthew 9, he approached Matthew, who was a tax collector. He was despised by people. What was he doing at the time? He was collecting taxes. Jesus walked up to him and said, “Hey, come follow me,” and Matthew did. It’s fascinating because Jesus looked at him not for what he was but for what he could be. Jesus did the same thing with Peter and Andrew. He walked up to them as they were fishing. These were uneducated fisherman, and he said, “Come follow me.”

Now, he didn’t take these men and immediately throw them into leadership. No, he began to walk with them. He began to disciple them. He was teaching them how to pray, how to have faith. He was teaching them the basics of the faith before he really started developing them as leaders, but he took a risk on people. He saw them for their potential and began to make an investment in them. Look around your church. Look around your organization. Who is it that you need to take a risk on?

Idea number two is look for willingness not just readiness. A lot of times, what we do is we look around the organization and we’re looking for that new leader who is ready to plug in, a plug and play leader, but they’re just not ready. We have to learn to look for willingness, not just readiness. I will never forget when I learned this lesson. I was leading a small group … This is back when we planted a church. I was leading a small group and, after small group one night, this young man named Roger came up to me and he looked at me and he said, “Mac, I want to do what you do.” I said, “What do you mean you want to do what I do?” He said, “I want to learn to lead a small group the way you lead a small group.” Man, he said, “Man, we just feel like family, the way you lead discussion and the way you really network us together and connect us together and bond us together and help us really grow in our faith. I want to learn to do what you do.”

Now, the whole time Roger was telling me this, I was looking at him and, in my mind, I was thinking, “You can’t do what I do. You’re not ready,” but he was so persistent. He wouldn’t give up. He just kept pushing me, saying, “Would you teach me? Would you teach me?” Finally, I said, “Okay, Roger. Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to show up to small group 15 minutes early next week and plan on staying 15 minutes late.” He did. Next week, he shows up 15 minutes early. We go upstairs in the room over the garage and I said, “Okay, Roger. One of the first things you have to learn as a small group leader is you have to learn how to build a sense of biblical community among the small group. Here’s how you do that,” and I shared five or six things on how to do that. Then, I said, “Okay, let’s go downstairs. Everybody is about to come in. I want you to watch me do this tonight.”

We went through group that night and then, that evening, after everybody left, he and I went back upstairs. We sat down and I said, “Okay. Tell me what you saw. What did you see me do right and then what did you see me do that I could have done better?” We sat there and we had a 15, 20 minute discussion about that. Next week, Roger shows up early again. I said, “Okay, this week, Roger, I’m going to teach you how to lead an icebreaker question. Here’s why icebreaker questions are important and here’s how you lead one. Watch me lead it.” Then, that night, after group, we went upstairs, took 15, 20 minutes. We debriefed it. Then, the following week I gave him the icebreaker question to ask the group. Again, went upstairs, debriefed it to see what he did well and what he could do better. We just did this week after week after week until, finally, next thing you know, Roger was ready to lead his own group.

Here’s what I learned from that. We have to learn to look for willingness, not just readiness, because, when we only look for readiness, we’re only going to do leadership placement rather than leadership development.
Idea number three is know what you’re looking for. If you’re not looking for readiness, then what are you looking for? I get this question more than any other when I’m working churches through the leadership pipeline process. People come up and always ask me this. What do you look for in a potential leader? What do you look for in a potential leader?

Here are three traits that I look for when I’m looking for a potential leader, and I call it TIP, T-I-P. First, T is teachable. Teachable. Is the individual teachable or do they act like they already know it all and have it all together? I’m looking for somebody that’s really teachable. I is integrity. Integrity. Is this a person that I respect, that others respect? Is it a person other people follow because they’re a person of character? P is passion. Are they passionate or are they passive? I’m going to tell you something. If you can find somebody that has a little bit of passion, you can teach them anything. When you’re looking for a potential leader, look for these three things, teachability, integrity, and passion. That’s somebody you can take some time and invest in. That’s the type of person you can begin to do leadership development with, rather than just leadership placement.

Okay, I said if you’d stick around til the end, I’d give you a bonus idea. Here’s the bonus idea, and it is my favorite. Give task before you give title. So often, when we are looking to fill a position and we’re identifying people that can fill that position, we measure the people against the full scope of that position. We can’t do that because we look at them and we go, “Well, they’re not ready to do that. They can’t do that entire job.” Well, of course they can’t. They’ve never done it before. We can baby step them there by giving them tasks along the way, before we give them the title. You give them responsibilities related to that role under your mentorship.

For example, let’s say that you needed to have a brand new children’s director. You find somebody that you think has the potential, you could develop them there. You can’t give them the title yet because they’re not quite ready for that, but you can give them task. For example, you could say, “Hey, I’m going to be recruiting a new children’s leader. I want you to come with me and follow me and watch me recruit a new team member.” Then, a few weeks later, “Hey, I want you to recruit somebody new to the team.” Then, “Hey, I want you to watch me lead one of our team meetings.” Then, “The next team meeting, I want you to assist me. Not lead the whole thing, I just want you to assist me in leading part of that team meeting.” Then, another time, “Hey, sit down. I want you to help me plan out this next quarter of activities for children’s ministry because planning is such an important competency related to this ministry.”They sit down, they help you do that. Then, next time, you can give them the opportunity to plan that. Here’s what you’re doing. By giving them task before you give them title, you are baby stepping them into the competencies they need in order to really lead in that position.

Thanks for reading and watching.

Fail Different

If at first you don’t succeed don’t try again, at least don’t try again the same exact way.

Each successive try should be done differently so that in trying you’re growing, learning and sharpening your leadership. In time you’ll get it right and be wiser for the efforts.

It’s hard to learn when you’re not challenging yourselves to fail differently.



3 Disciplines that Will Make You a Better Teacher

I never want to grow stale as a trainer. After so many years of developing others, it’s tempting to put it on cruise control. That’s why I work to maintain certain disciplines as a trainer. Here are three things I want to do every time I train:

  1. I want to learn something new about the topic before I teach it.
  2. I want to maintain the posture of a learner by seeking to learn something new during the session from the learners.
  3. I want to process through each exercise and question in advance so I can be focused and flexible during the session.

These are three disciplines I believe will make me a better trainer.

What’s one discipline you want to maintain every time you train?

Your BIGGEST Leadership Development Challenge

I read a survey recently that found only 14% of organizations have confidence in their leadership talent pipeline. That’s frightening to think an organization or a church feels that insecure about the development of future talent.  The long-term health and vitality of any organization are dependent on a continual multiplication of new leaders.

This shows the importance of having an effective leadership development strategy. The statistic above breaks my heart because some of my favorite times with my team are times we’re focused on growing their confidence and competence as leaders.  We discuss future talent on a regular basis and everyone is constantly looking for who they can reproduce themselves in next.  And the thing is…it excites them.  They don’t see it as a chore but an exciting challenge.

As you may know, my passion is helping leaders produce more and better leaders. So I’ve been spending my weekends working on some new tools to help you become more effective in developing your leaders. But I need your help.  I’ve provided a survey below that will help me understand your needs better and tailor content to help meet those needs.  You can remain anonymous or there’s an option to let me know a little bit about you as well.

But I need your help.  I’ve provided a survey below that will help me understand your needs better and tailor content to meet those needs.  You can remain anonymous or there’s an option to let me know a little bit about you as well.

I look forward to hearing from you.  I’ll be posting the new tools and content here in the coming weeks.


I Want Leaders Like This

What kind of leader do you want to develop? Not, what kind do you want to find? But what kind do you want to develop? My guess is you want leaders who…

  • are men and women of character
  • give their all to the cause
  • embody the values of your organization
  • inspire others to follow
  • think biblically and decide wisely
  • display patience and perseverance
  • are committed to reproducing themselves in other leaders

Leaders like this aren’t built in the classroom …they’re built on the battlefield of the mission.

Leaders like this aren’t built from reading a book …they’re built from the challenge of putting content into action.

Leaders like this aren’t built through “just jump in and figure it out” …they’re built through constant input and feedback.

Leaders like this aren’t built in a day … they’re built over a season.

Developing Your First Leader

Developing a new leader for the first time can be a scary task. We are overwhelmed with “What If’s.” What if I fail. What if they don’t learn from me? What if they ask a question I can’t answer? The prospects of failing at this crucial task can be frightening.

Do you want to know the bottom line secret to developing your first leader?

It’s not reading a book on leadership development. It’s not going to a conference. listening to a podcast or taking a class on leadership development.  Here the secret: Just get started.

That’s right, just do it. Yes, you’re going to make mistakes. But every mistake makes you better if you learn from it. The books, conferences, podcasts, and classes can be a help but the only way you will really ever learn to develop a leader is by developing a leader.


Need Help with Your Leadership Pipeline?

When I ask pastors, “What is your leadership development strategy?”  I only get one of two answers.  Some are honest and say, “We don’t have one.”  Others hesitate for a moment and say, “Well ours is organic,” which means, they don’t have one.

I just returned from a trip to New England where I wrapped up a Leadership Pipeline training with 16 churches.  Over the past seven months, I have personally worked with these leaders to build out the Structure, System, Content and People portions of their pipeline.  It has been amazing seeing these churches who had no leadership development strategy work hard and create an intentional leadership development strategy that actually results in new leaders.

I asked for testimonies at the end of the training and Larry, the Exec Pastor of one of the churches, said the Leadership Pipeline training has been a game changer for them.  This church is growing at an amazing 40% rate this year.  As a result of the training, they have raised up a group of new coaches AND get this…VOLUNTEER Directors!

Kristine, who heads up leadership development, for a 3-year-old church plant that runs 300 told me that the Pipeline training has given them a strategic way to equip their leaders and their leaders are loving it. She shared that each month after our group sessions she would go back and teach what she was learning to her key leaders.

Imagine what could happen in your church if you equip and empower lay people to lead at higher levels like this!  This is one thing that the Leadership Pipeline training can do for you.

In just a few short weeks, on August 21 & 22, David Putman and I will kick off another Leadership Development Pipeline Co::Lab in Atlanta, GA.  We have room for three more church teams (Limit 10).

We, Auxano, have been taking dozens of church teams through this process since 2013 and are seeing some amazing results.

During this Co::Lab you will benefit from….

  • 20 principles for creating a culture of Leadership Pipeline Development
  • We will give you dozens of Tools, templates, and techniques for developing leaders
  • A template to guide you in building your own systems
  • Development of a learning path for every level of your pipeline
  • An action planning guide for use between sessions
  • Coaching calls between each session
  • Peer learning environment limited to 10 church teams

Most important you will benefit from the development of your very own Leadership Pipeline.

For the details click here, and to start a conversation simply email me at and we will personally reach out to you.

Helping Your Team Create Raving Fans

Sometimes we get so busy doing the work of our organization that we actually forget about the very customers we’re there to serve.  In those times we can let our attention to serving customers needs slip off our radar and become second priority.

The following 60- 75-minute huddle is designed for you to lead your team through a development discussion that will help shape the way they think about serving your customers. I used this with my team a few weeks ago and they’re still talking about ways we can create raving fans.

I’ve attached the Word document so you can edit any portion of it to fit your needs or context.  The document includes both the Leader Guide as well as the Participant Guide.

Creating Raving Fans Long Huddle

Enjoy.  And let me know how it goes.

When you grow as a developer everybody wins!

If you’re not actively engaged in leadership development then you’re not learning anything new about it.

If you’re not learning anything new about developing leaders then you’re not getting any better at it.

That’s dangerous because a lack of development has a long term effect on your organization that may not be visible today but will certainly become evident at some point in the future.

Regardless of how bad you think you may be at development just start doing it. Dive in. Look at every coaching conversation, mentoring session or team huddle as “practice” and you’ll find yourself getting better.

Seeing every development opportunity as practice allows you to progressively learn more and more about the art of developing others. And as you get better at development your team will get better at leading. And when your team gets better at leading your organization will get better at accomplishing its mission.

When you grow as a developer everybody wins!