Develop Your Leadership Skills While You Advance the Mission of Your Church – 4 Tips for Experiential Learning

Want to learn what it takes to lead and develop a team? Or steer change? Persuade your peers? Manage a problem employee?

“Then do it,” says CCL’s Cindy McCauley. “You will broaden and deepen your leadership capabilities as you do leadership work.”

Learning from experience is the No. 1 way that leader development happens, according to McCauley.

McCauley is a senior fellow with the Center for Creative Leadership. Much of her work focuses on learning: boosting our ability to learn, identifying what is important to learn, and what experiences teach which lessons. She is coeditor of the new book, Experience-Driven Leader Development: Models, Tools, Best Practices, and Advice for On-the-Job Development (Wiley, 2013).

Research in the field of leadership development supports the value of experience-driven leadership. Most executives cite on-the-job experiences as the key events that shaped them as leaders and taught them important skills, behaviors or mindsets. And the formula 70-20-10 is well-known in HR circles: 70 percent of development happens on the job, 20 percent from relationships, and 10 percent in formal or classroom training.

Even so, most of us aren’t given the information or tools to help us maximize or seek out learning opportunities. On-the-job learning is often hit-or-miss. If you want to boost your development, there are many experience-based strategies you can take. According to McCauley, one of the best things you can do is to embrace the idea of development in place.

Development in place is defined as “adding challenges to current work and non-work pursuits in ways that broaden your portfolio of leadership experiences.” While promotions and big job changes are powerful opportunities for learning and growth, you don’t want to wait around for those moments, says McCauley.

You can learn important, new skills by doing work that gives you practice. For example, you can learn to handle external pressure by taking calls on a customer hotline; gain experience handling high-stakes work by doing a tight-deadline assignment for your boss; or tackle unfamiliar challenges by asking your boss to delegate one of his or her responsibilities to you. Together, these experiences help prepare you for future roles or jobs.

So, how do you do it?

>> First, identify the kinds of experiences you need to add to your leadership portfolio. Consider these 10 leadership challenges — which experiences would be new or a chance to stretch in ways you haven’t in a while?

  1. Unfamiliar Responsibilities: Handling responsibilities that are new or very different from previous ones you’ve handled.
  2. New Directions: Starting something new or making strategic changes.
  3. Inherited Problems: Fixing problems created by someone else or existing before you took the assignment.
  4. Problems with Employees: Dealing with employees who lack adequate experience, are not highly competent or are resistant to change.
  5. High Stakes: Managing work with tight deadlines, pressure from above, high visibility and responsibility for critical decisions.
  6. Scope and Scale: Managing work that is broad in scope (involving multiple functions, groups, locations, products or services) or large in sheer size (for example, workload, number of responsibilities).
  7. External Pressure: Managing the interface with important groups outside the organization, such as customers, vendors, partners, unions and regulatory agencies.
  8. Influencing without Authority: Influencing peers, higher management or other key people over whom you have no authority.
  9. Work across Cultures: Working with people from different cultures or with institutions in other countries.
  10. Work Group Diversity: Being responsible for the work of people of both genders and different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

>> Second, think of ways you can add an important challenge while continuing in your current job.Pick two or three challenges you are seeking and start generating specific ideas about how to pursue them. Could you:

  • Reshape your job? Add new responsibilities to your job on a more or less permanent basis. These could be responsibilities moved from your boss to you (or exchanged among peers). Or they may be responsibilities that no one currently owns in your group or organization.
  • Take on a temporary assignment? Seek out tasks or responsibilities that are bounded by time: projects, task forces, one-time events or assignments that can be rotated among team members.
  • Seek challenges outside the workplace? Take on leadership responsibilities in community, nonprofit, religious, social or professional organizations.

>> Third, focus and create a plan. Narrow your options and pick one developmental assignment to undertake. Talk to your boss and other stakeholders: What’s practical? What’s doable? What would be most beneficial to your organization? What would be most motivating to you?

Then, so you are sure you learn what you set out to learn, make a plan. Map out:

  • The ways in which the assignment can help you grow as a leader.
  • The skills, behaviors and actions you’ll need to practice.
  • Support mechanisms — what will you need and who can provide it.
  • Strategies that will help you focus on learning from the assignment (for example, keeping a journal or checking in with an accountability partner).

>> Finally, don’t give up. Learning to lead isn’t easy. Being competent and comfortable in new situations and using new skills takes time. But experience-driven learning pays off. You’ll benefit from interesting experiences in the short-term and build a portfolio of skills that will make you a more effective leader in the future.

Read more from CCL here.

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Center for Creative Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) offers what no one else can: an exclusive focus on leadership education and research and unparalleled expertise in solving the leadership challenges of individuals and organizations everywhere. We equip clients around the world with the skills and insight to achieve more than they thought possible through creative leadership.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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