The book, On Developing Leaders, contains several essays in the HBR format. Each essay contains an executive summary at the beginning, which is very helpful for deciding which parts of the essay you want to read. I’ll only be mentioning the essays the seemed to correspond with what I might want to learn for ministry.

Summary of On Developing Leaders

The first essay is “Are You Picking the Right Leaders?” In this essay the key idea is that an organization (even a church) can spend less resources if they try and identify natural leaders rather than develop people into leaders who may not possess as high of a leadership ceiling. The authors describe some of the ways to identify these people who already possess leadership traits. By interviewing people below, alongside, and above a person you can find out if they possess these traits. In a church setting it might mean that you talk to their small group, their spouse, and their small group leader. That’s just my idea, you may prefer something different. The qualities to look for are: integrity, communication, and analytical ability. You may want to adapt those key areas for your ministry situation – but I’d recommend keeping integrity as one of them!

The second essay in On Developing Leaders that I’ll mention is called “Personalize Your Management Development.” It may have a church correlation somewhere around training leaders. How many times have you seen a church ask someone to lead a small group, put them through a training session, then throw them out into the wilderness on their own? Then, when that person struggles, the church says that maybe it wasn’t God’s will. I want to suggest that maybe we haven’t developed that person properly. This essay points out that some people are reluctant leaders, they have what it takes they just can’t imagine themselves in leadership. I think most people fall into this category. You have to continually encourage them, and show them that they are competent in that area. Then there are arrogant leaders. Oftimes I can be one of those. We think we already know all the answers to the questions that you haven’t even thought of yet. What we need is to be shown our weaknesses and guided through the process of occasional failure. There are also unknown leaders, who have smaller circles of influence. I think of those people who are classic introverts as fitting into this category. Then there are also the workaholics who will pursue their role with all of their energy, often at the expense of their family and friends. Obviously they need to be coached toward a less frantic pace.

“Teaching Smart People to Learn” is the title of the next essay in On Developing Leaders that I’ll discuss. In this one, the authors suggest that many organizations have smart people in them. So why do they make bad decisions? Because they don’t really evaluate things that aren’t working properly – they just downplay them. Obviously church leaders need to be transparent and honest about their shortcomings and the shortcomings of the church they lead. Don’t claim you have great facilities if your toilets are always backing up. Don’t claim you have great music if the last three weeks the music was poor. You get the idea.

The final essay is titled, “The Crucible of Leadership.” The thesis is that leaders often have to go through hard times to become truly good leaders. You’ve probably seen the basic equivalent in the way that older leaders often talk down to young leaders because they assume that the younger leaders are too “green.” While that isn’t always the case – sometimes it is. Often times people need to go through truly difficult circumstances to discover their purpose, or faith, or vocational calling. For me, it was partly being fired from a job. Then it was going through the rigors of a Ph.D. program. Both of those circumstances pushed me to the boundaries of what I thought was possible, and where I thought my faith could take me. Those crucibles of leadership shaped me in a large way.


While this is a business book, as I’ve pointed out several of the essays have bearing on those of us in church leadership. If you have anything to add please let me know in the comments or via email. If you’re interested in purchasing this book, please use my affiliate link here. If you would like to check it out from a library near you click here.

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