7 Ways to Raise up Young Leaders

I talk to pastors and leaders my age and older who want to see a new generation of leaders. They claim to love investing in younger leaders. They recognize the huge need in churches and organizations. Our future depends upon doing so.

The problem they claim is either they don’t know how or can’t seem to find them. Or they can’t seem to keep them. Frankly, some pastors I talk with are frustrated with what they see as a lack of leadership among the newer generations.

As a church planter, we hired several staff members into their first ministry position. We struck “gold” several times. I was frequently asked how we have managed to find so many talented young leaders. Much of the work God did at the church plant was done through the leadership efforts of people 10, 15, and 20 years younger than me.

Now I am pastoring an established church. I falsely assumed — because of what I’d been told — younger leaders would not want to join our efforts. They only wanted hip and cool church plants.

Not true. At all. We are once again surrounded by young leaders. Sharp young leaders.

Along the way we’ve discovered a few things.

Here are 7 ways to raise up young leaders:

Give them opportunities – That sounds simple, but it’s not. Many leaders are afraid to hand off real responsibility to leaders half their age. I understand, because I made some huge mistakes as a young leader, but at the same time, it’s how I learned — through trying, failing and trying again. Younger leaders want authority and a seat at the table now — not when they reach an expected age. They may not even be a fair expectation for them at times, but it’s a legitimate one. Is it risky? Of course, but it awesome has the potential for awesomeness to occur.

Share experiences – Young leaders are open to learning from a mature leader’s successes and failures. In fact, they crave it. They enjoy hearing stories of what worked and what didn’t. This characteristic is actually one of the beauties of newer generations. The young leaders on teams I’ve led actually seek out my personal experience. They will still want the chance to learn on their own, but they are ready to glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before them — especially in the context of relationships.

Allow for failure – People of all ages will make mistakes in leadership, regardless of their years of experience. It seems magnified for younger leaders, because they are doing many things the first time — which is one reason older leaders sometimes shy away from them. An atmosphere, however, which embraces failure as a part of the growth process, invites younger leaders to take chances, risking failure and exploring possible genius discoveries.

Be open to change – More than likely, younger leaders will do things differently than the older leaders did things. They want more flexible hours, different work environments, and opportunities to work as a team. It may seem unnatural at first, but let their process take shape and you’ll have a better chance of leadership development occurring. And, us “old dogs” might “learn some new tricks”.

Set high expectations – Having different working methods shouldn’t lower standards or quality expectations. The good thing is the younger leaders, from my experience, aren’t looking for a free ride, just a seat on the bus. Hold them accountable to clearly identified goals and objectives. Let them know what a win looks like to you. Applaud them for good work and challenge them to continually improve. It’s part of their growth process.

Provide encouragement – Younger leaders need feedback. They seem to want to know how they are doing far more often than the annual review system the past afforded. They are looking to meet the approval of senior leadership and the organization. Keep them encouraged and they’ll keep aiming higher.

Give constructive feedback – Again, younger leaders appear more interested in knowing they are meeting the expectations of senior leadership, so acknowledge that fact by helping them learn as they grow. Don’t simply share “good” or “bad” feedback. Rather, with the goal of helping them grow as leaders, give them concrete and constructive reviews of their performance. Help them understand not only what they did right or wrong, but practical ways they can get better in their work and leadership abilities.

Raising up younger leaders is crucial to a growing and maintaining healthy organizations and churches. We must be intentional and diligent about investing in the next generation, understanding their differences, and working within their culture to grow new leaders.

Young leaders, what did I miss?

Mature leaders, what else are you doing?

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33 thoughts on “7 Ways to Raise up Young Leaders

  1. Your article about the different ways to raise a leader was really good. I believe that there is a leader in each and every one of us. With the proper training and when the time comes everyone can do their part well and to their satisfaction.

  2. I expect that young leaders be raised up in following style by a senior leader:

    (i) Understand the people you lead on a deep level.
    (ii) Have ongoing mentoring relationships with emerging leaders.
    (iii) Create, and communicate, your leadership point of view.
    (iv) Learn to ask profound questions.

  3. Love this, Ron!
    Stuff like this makes me want to move to Tennessee, and go to GCC just to be a part of your church and be exposed to your team and leadership first-hand!
    Keep up the good work!
    Twitter: imattchell

  4. I thought you might be interested in this quote from a C. S. Lewis letter written in 1954 when those in authority in England were just starting to be called "leaders." Here is his quote on "leaders:" "'I do think the State is increasingly tyrannical . . . [it] exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good — to do something to us or make us something. Hence the new name "leaders" for those who were once "rulers." We are [now] less their subjects than their wards, pupils or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, "Mind your own business." Our whole lives are their business.'" I teach at a PAC 10 university and there is no college or major that does not include several courses on leadership, teaching everyone everywhere to be a leader. There are no courses on following, just leading — authentic leadership, ethical leadership, servant leadership, dynamic / effective / empathetic / courageous / …. leadership courses and cases and retreats and seminars and more. What is interesting in all this is that there is no discussion about WHERE to lead people, just leadership; no matter what the topic, what the need, what the situation, lead. And the students write it all down because they all want to be leaders — and all the while they never note that they are actually following: tips, guidelines, pathways to being a leader. It is an interesting era — entire armies of leaders. Who will they lead? They are all looking for groups to lead — leaders without followers. And that is the saddest part — at a time in our culture when people are more slavish to fashion and trends and the current hot topics, there is no help for those who want to be more discerning followers because being a follower is somehow second class. It is interesting how often Christ emphasized "follow me." It sounds rather old-school now. Thanks for your posts on this topic.

  5. I appreciate your thoughts on your topic as my job is developing student leadership on our campus, while still being a young leader myself. Do you have any advice for encouraging senior leadership to adopt more of this philosophy?

  6. As a young leader, I think this is a great post! All these things you mention, I see them implemented with the leaders I serve under.
    for me the two most important, and probably most difficult for more experienced leaders, are giving opportunities and allowing failure.

    The most valuable lessons I have learned have come from been given an opportunity and failing, as much as it hurts at the moment. the lesson is engrained deeply!

  7. Great guidelines Ron. I encourage anyone and everyone who works with young leaders to establish a philosophy on failure. Know when you'll step in and when you'll step back. Guide young leaders with tools and systems that help them learn from failure. Advise them early and often on the difference between a failure and a flaw (repeated failures, character or moral issues). Most of the time, young leaders aren't prepared to make the most of their failures because no one has prepared them for it.

  8. As a young leader myself, setting high expectations is key. Often times, my generation needs pushing. Speak life, speak potential and vision. Expect much. Well said here, Ron!
    Twitter: jonathanpearson

  9. I think your point about allowing for failure is crucial. As a young leader, I've failed time and time and time again. When the leaders above me smile, that goes a long way to encourage me to persevere. They view it the mistakes we have to fix together as an investment in molding me into the man that God wants me to be.

  10. How do you bridge the generation gap between old and young leaders? Seems like we are missing a lot of the middle generation (baby boomers) leaders, and we have a huge gap between the older people and the younger people. The younger generation does not want to follow the traditional ways of the older generation, and the older generation has a difficult time accepting change. It becomes an "us" against "them" mentality and destroys churches because nether generation feels comfortable with a compromise. You end up chasing one or the other out of the church. I think this is the biggest challenge churches face in our area.

    • That's a great question, but I guess I don't see it as much as you do. I am a baby boomer and lead a large organization. I see lots my age who are. I seemed to gain “credibility” among older leaders by my mid-thirties, or at least by the time I was 40. The struggle I see most is getting the 20 something to lead.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • I think the most interesting thing is that many organizations, churches definitely included in this, aren't willing to set the bar in a place that allows 20s (early, mid or late) to be involved in the game. Many positions want lots of experience attached to a job, and I understand that, but you have to allow for all the things you have listed in your post if you want to raise up, and want to reach the next generation. That means lowering the bar in some cases, but not in all cases as you have said. Expectations should be there. However, at the end of the day, I'm 27 years old. I have as much experience as a 27 will have. But that's how you find the next superstar on your team: by allowing the young player to practicing with the team AMD get into the game. Thanks for the words, Ron. Always appreciate them!

    • That's awesome Dave. Great minds think alike I guess they say. Thanks for your work as well.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

    • Good thoughts Dave and great post Ron! Great reminders. The one discipline that I find most challenging experienced leaders is to "allow for failure". In the quest to raise up young leaders, many leaders expect future leaders to get it right early and often. This perspective is unrealistic and will result in frustration for the mentor and mentee. We made tons of mistakes – so will they.

      Ron, I appreciate your encouragement and influence in my life and work. Today is an exciting day for me – I release my new eBook, Creating Your Business Vision. It's FREE for a limited time at http://michaelnichols.org/business-vision.

      Your regular updates provide motivation and encouragement along my leadership journey. So, in a way, it's your eBook too! Congratulations! 😉
      Twitter: Michaelenichols