3 Simple Ways to Develop Potential Leaders

In his book, Developing the Leaders Around You, John Maxwell writes, “Varied experiences add incredibly to people’s development. It keeps them growing, stretching, and learning. The broader people’s base of experience, the better they will be at handling new challenges, solving problems, and overcoming difficult situations” (p. 118). Providing potential leaders with new projects and tasks is what gives them the skills they need to develop into leaders. Thankfully, this idea helps current leaders because they can get rid of projects they are working on which can easily be delegated to potential leaders. However, this is not an opportunity for leaders to dump tasks and projects that leaders do not want to do. 

3 Simple Ways to Develop Potential Leaders

Photo Credit: Sjofian


A. Leaders Delegate Projects and Tasks

Leaders must be intentional about what they choose to delegate.

Three criteria are important to follow when leaders look for projects to delegate to potential leaders:

  • (1) The project needs to be something that leaders regularly do.
  • (2) The project needs to be something that will develop the qualities and skills of potential leaders.
  • (3) The project needs to be something that potential leaders have both the capability and potential to do.

With those three criteria in mind, current leaders can delegate a new project that they have wanted to start but have not had the time. Or, current leaders can delegate some of their recurring work so that they have time to start a new project.

B. Focus on Outcomes as Measurements for Leadership Development

Every CEO, board member, and senior level manager wants to see results. However, developing leaders is difficult to measure. One way that leaders can show that they are developing leaders is through the results of potential leaders’ work. Current leaders can show upper level management that new projects have been started or old ones have been improved because of the work that current leaders delegated to potential leaders. Furthermore, if current leaders can show that they have been more productive because they delegated work to potential leaders, then current leaders can show the results of leadership development in potential leaders.


Professional growth is a requirement for potential leaders. While young people have potential for leadership, active professional growth is what removes the gap between potential leaders’ current skills and the skills they need in order to lead. Professional growth must be customized to the learning of the individual and it must occur regularly. Individuals learn in many different ways, therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for professional growth plans. An organization should require professional growth of potential leaders, but it should not require the specific details of how that growth occurs.

A. The Different Training Types

Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini provide the most comprehensive explanation of the different growth types in their book, Building Leaders. While they describe eight training venues and eight event venues, the four training types are most relevant to this research project.

  • The first training type is learner-driven training. In this type potential leaders take responsibility for their own growth for the purpose of self-development of character, knowledge, skills, and emotions. Ways that this training can occur are reading books, listening to conferences on CD, interviewing successful leaders over lunch or coffee, or it could be classes and seminars.
  • The second training type is content-driven training. In this training type there is a clear transfer of knowledge where a body of information is the basis for the learning. This type of training can be formal or informal.
  • The third training type is mentor-driven training. Potential leaders are matched with a mentor that provides help by giving instruction, being a model, providing observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the mentee, as well as evaluating the progress of the mentee.
  • The fourth training type is experience-driven training. In this training type potential leaders grow through practice of skills and knowledge that they need while doing the work (See Building Leaders, pp. 152-156).

B. Reflection as the Most Powerful Growth Tool

The most effective and cost efficient way for potential leaders to grow is through daily reflection. Regarding reflection John Maxwell comments, “There are many different ways of growing and an infinite number of lessons to be learned in life. But there are some kinds of growth that come to us only if we are willing to stop, pause, and allow the lesson to catch up with us” (The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growthp. 51). Therefore, potential leaders need to take a moment every day for thirty seconds to five minutes to pause and reflect about the projects they are working on, the experiences they have had, and the things that they have learned.

Here are some basic questions that potential leaders can ask when they take time to reflect.

  • What did I do well today?
  • What can I improve on?
  • What did I learn today from the tasks and projects I worked on?
  • What did I learn today from the people I met with?
  • What did I learn today from the things I heard?
  • What did I learn today from what I read?

Reflection is useless unless potential leaders record their learnings and review them regularly. Potential leaders must find a place to record the things they have learned. For example, potential leaders should write their reflections in a small journal, record them into an audio file, write them on a legal pad, put them in the “notes” feature in a phone, or organize the reflections into an Excel spreadsheet. The place and method of recording the reflections is not as important as the necessity of doing the reflection daily.

C. How to Implement a Professional Growth Plan

1. Steps for Implementation

To implement a professional growth plan several things need to be in place. First, this plan needs to be agreed upon by the leader and potential leader. Second, it needs to be put into writing. Third, the leader needs to follow up with the potential leader regularly to assess progress with the plan. Fourth, potential leaders need to show growth through their recorded reflections.

2. Time for Implementation

The goal of this applied research is not to provide potential leaders with one more thing to do. Once potential leaders have assessed the best ways that they learn they should seek out ways that they can implement their growth plan with minimal time and effort.

For example, when a potential leader waits in line at Starbucks every morning he can pull out his phone and read a blog post or two that he has put into his RSS feed related to leadership growth. Instead of listening to the same news headlines that are told over and over again on the radio during a potential leader’s drive to work, he can be intentional about leadership growth by listening to podcasts or books on tape. If a potential leader has to go to a doctor’s appointment he can be intentional about growth by bringing a book or magazine related to leadership that he can read while he waits for his appointment. Meetings often start late so if a potential leader finds himself at a meeting waiting for it to start he can grow from his peers by asking different questions about their work and what they are learning about leadership.

The goal is to find methods that are effective and require minimal time.


Coaching is an essential element to groom potential leaders. Even if potential leaders do new projects and actively pursue professional growth, they still need a little bit of coaching every month from their direct supervisor. What is coaching? According to Clinton and Stanley, “The Coach’s central thrust is to provide motivation and impart skills and application to meet a task or challenge” (Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, p. 73).

A. Thirty Minutes a Month

In this model it is proposed that potential leaders receive thirty minutes of coaching per month. Thirty minutes might sound like a lot, but if the typical nonprofit leader works fifty hours a week and provides thirty minutes of coaching a month to a potential leader, that is only one quarter of one percent (.0025) of the leader’s time every month. Any leader can carve out one quarter of one percent of her time every month to coach a potential leader.

B. Four Basic Coaching Strategies

When conducting coaching sessions with potential leaders there are four basic elements that should be present in the coaching sessions.

  • First, leaders need to be good listeners. They need to listen to what potential leaders are going through and if necessary ask questions of the potential leaders. How have things been going? Do you feel that you have been successful? What are your struggling with?
  • Second, leaders need to provide resources and ideas to potential leaders. If potential leaders are struggling in an area and appear to be stuck, leaders should step in to provide resources or ideas that will help potential leaders solve the problem.
  • Third, leaders need to offer encouragement to potential leaders. People that are experimenting and trying new things are going to have limited success. Therefore, offer encouragement to potential leaders because they must know that their leaders still believe in them.
  • Fourth, leaders need to restate the vision for the organization or program that potential leaders are working in. Potential leaders can become consumed with the details and forget about the larger picture. Every coaching meeting should end with the leader restating the vision of the nonprofit organization or program. This reminds potential leaders that what they are working towards is bigger and more important than themselves.


While it is clear that busy nonprofit leaders struggle to find time to develop potential leaders, there are several ways that leaders can overcome this hurdle. Leaders can develop potential leaders by getting support of the organizational culture, by identifying the qualities that need to be developed, and implementing the 70-20-10 principle to leadership development. The proposed solution of this project states that busy leaders can develop potential leaders by providing new projects to work on, having potential leaders create and follow a customized professional growth plan, and by participating in coaching. These solutions may not completely solve the problem of nonprofit leaders having limited time to develop potential leaders, but they can provide an improvement to this common problem.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at