Learning to lead, Leading to learn

Teachers tend to learn more than anyone else in the classroom. Several years ago, I taught New Testament Greek. I was hired partly based on my proficiency. But, early on, I remember a senior scholar putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, “You’re learning a lot of Greek, aren’t you?” He knew; he understood. Being responsible for the education of others brought my learning to a new level.

Serving in leadership is another irreplaceable learning opportunity. That’s why the normal pattern for local officers in The Salvation Army is to first volunteer in an area of service and then to be commissioned for the role. Serving demonstrates commitment and capacity and becomes a critical training ground. By the same coin, commissioned local officers are not done learning—they’re learning at a new level (Proverbs 4:18).

Matt Baker, from the USA East’s Corps Leadership Development team, has a slogan for this concept: “Learning to lead, leading to learn.” Think about it. We typically conceptualize learning for ministry as follows: first, formal training; then, active service. Experience shows us that such a pattern doesn’t reflect reality or best practices.

Let’s take for granted that serving in any capacity requires proper clearances, some aptitude, and a good will. However, if we delay placing soldiers or volunteers into roles until they are perfectly formed, we will never have the commissioned local officers and warranted local leaders we need for a healthy and sustainable corps. We always learn more effectively when we are actually serving. When we serve in such a realistic capacity, we grasp our responsibility for others, which drives our learning and excellence.

Here are five recognized best practices for healthy and sustainable corps leadership development:

Make learning an exciting discovery
Some people learn ideas and skills by simply being told, but most learn more effectively when they discover the idea or when they practice the skill themselves. So, give people well–structured opportunities to encounter and enact the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they are expected to learn.

Create intermediate leadership roles
Add meaningful steps toward becoming a leader. Doing so decreases the distance between the metaphorical “rocks across the stream.” Each new “rock” in the stream represents a more reachable step in the process of becoming a leader. Encourage people to become coaches, small group facilitators, council members, and student–teachers. Such roles give them a chance to imagine themselves making the move toward greater responsibility and competence as leaders.

Collaborate with diverse stakeholders
To accomplish something worthwhile, involve
people who are stakeholders in it from beginning–to–end. Who will be affected by your decisions? Seek their input and support through multiple means, at multiple times. People of different cultures, ages, genders, ethnicities, and socio–economic statuses offer valuable perspectives.

Encourage and reward commitment
An unmoored world claims that people benefit most from “no commitment necessary” and “cancel anytime” terms. Nevertheless, individuals, families, and congregations flourish when connections are deep and lasting. Local officers elevate the trust and stability needed for sustainable leadership development.

Leaders should hold themselves accountable to plan, act, and reflect. Commit to this pattern beforehand. Self–evaluation should be based on this plan.

Don’t rush
Teachers and trainers at every level frequently experience the same problem: too much what for the when. Don’t overfill. It’s best to learn something of great value deeply and lastingly.  “The fruit of the Spirit is … patience,” (Galatians 5:22).

by Isaiah Allen

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