The Qualities You Want in Your Pipeline of Potential Leaders

In nonprofit organizations, people will always be coming and going. Therefore, nonprofit organizations and churches must develop a pipeline of potential leaders. John Maxwell describes the importance of looking for potential leaders when he writes, “There is something much more important and scarce than ability: It is the ability to recognize ability. One of the primary responsibilities of a successful leader is to identify potential leaders. It’s not always an easy job, but it is critical” (Developing the Leaders Around You, p. 37). Included in this pipeline of potential leaders are the necessary qualities a potential leader needs to have as well as some of the basic skills that need to be possessed for future development of leaders. 

The Qualities You Want in Your Pipeline of Potential Leaders

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Some people are happy with their current job responsibilities and do not want to stretch into new roles. This means that some people will not want to be developed into leaders. Maxwell’s summary of this issue is relevant, “Nurture all of your people, equip many. But develop only a few—the few who are ready and willing”(Developing the Leaders Around You, p. 109). Below is a list of the prerequisite qualities for Christian and secular potential leaders that should not just be nurtured or equipped, but also developed.

A. Christian

According to Malphurs and Mancini, there are seven prerequisite qualities for someone working for a Christian organization.

  • First, that person should be a Christian.
  • Second, the potential leader needs to be a person of good character.
  • Third, the potential leader needs to have a good reputation in the community (pass a background check, not being disciplined from church, etc.).
  • Fourth, the potential leader must be teachable.
  • Fifth, there needs to be a clear history of behavior in which the person has made commitments and followed through on those commitments.
  • Sixth, the person needs to support the core values, mission, vision, strategy, and doctrines of that Christian organization.
  • Seventh,  need to reflect the organization’s position on marriage, divorce, using tobacco, or drinking alcohol (Building Leaders, pp. 136-137).

B. Secular

Maxwell outlines ten prerequisite qualities for someone working in a secular organization.

  • First, a positive attitude is essential because potential leaders need to see people and situations in a positive way.
  • Second, servanthood should be seen in someone’s willingness to submit, play as a team, and follow the leader.
  • Third, the potential leader should display a desire for personal and professional growth.
  • Fourth, follow-through should be a regular activity of a potential leader. She must say what she is going to do and then do what she said.
  • Fifth, loyalty in a potential leader is putting the organization as top priority instead of personal ambition and benefit.
  • Sixth, the potential leader needs resiliency to bounce back when problems occur.
  • Seventh, integrity should be visible because of trustworthiness and solid character.
  • Eighth, a big-picture mindset is needed to see the whole organization and its needs.
  • Ninth, self-discipline must be present because leaders are required to do things regardless of a personal mood or feeling.
  • Tenth, gratitude is the attitude of thankfulness potential leaders should display (Developing the Leaders Around You, p. 43).


When creating an ongoing leadership development plan, leaders must clarify what competencies are needed for potential leaders. Senior leadership at an organization must look at what leadership capacities they will need to fulfill their mission in the next three to five years and based on that, create a list of competencies and skills that leaders need to have. While that list will be different for each organization, the development areas below should be a starting point for Christian and secular organizations.

A. Christian

Malphurs and Mancini propose that there are four core leadership competencies for Christian leaders.

  • The first is being. This refers to character and reflects the potential leader’s heart. When hard times come (and they will) a leader needs to have cultivated a strong character.
  • The second is knowing. Knowledge is essential for potential leaders to understand the new trends and research in their field of work as well as knowing how to perform their job in the best way.
  • The third is doing. These are the leader’s actions and behavior in what is called hard or task skills as well as soft or relational skills. Hard or task skills are how to cast vision, develop core values, manage a budget, and teach. Soft or relational skills are how to listen to others, provide encouragement, mentor others, and resolve conflict.
  • Fourth is feeling. Often this is described as the Personal Awareness and Management quadrant of “Emotional Intelligence” in which a person recognizes her emotions, identifies them as good or bad, manages that emotion, and explores why that emotion has arisen.[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 147-151; Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1995), 43, 48; Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 39-50, 253-256.[/ref]

B. Secular

Kramer and Nayak indicate that potential leaders in secular organizations should have aspiration, ability, and engagement.

  • Aspiration is an individual’s desire for results, advancement, influence, intrinsic rewards, work-life balance, and overall job enjoyment.
  • Ability is more than the desire or aspiration to be a leader. It is the innate characteristics and learned skills needed to carry out day-to-day work. These are things such as cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and technical skills. 
  • Lastly, Kramer and Nayak believe a potential leader should practice engagement, which includes four elements. The first is emotional commitment, which is how employees value, believe in, and enjoy the organization where they work. The second is relational commitment in which employees believe that staying with the organization serves their best interest. Third is discretionary commitment, which is the employee’s willingness to go the extra mile. Fourth is intent to stay as employees desire to continue with that organization (Nonprofit Leadership Development, 64-65).

In addition to the four qualities above, Laura Callanan at The Foundation Center lists six capabilities of a social sector leader.

  • The first is problem solver. Potential leaders must be able to use values and mission to guide strategic choices which put the emphasis on solving the problem and not on advancing the potential leader’s career.
  • The second is generous collaborator. This person recognizes that things are accomplished as a team and therefore the potential leader does not seek personal credit for accomplishments.
  • Third is motivated mentor. While a social sector leader is committed to personal and professional growth, that person must also be willing to invest in the next generation of leaders.
  • Fourth is responsible steward. This means a potential leader is trustworthy because of the responsible handling of funds to do good work in the community.
  • Fifth is applied researcher. Personal and professional growth are not enough for a potential leader. Additionally, a potential leader needs to anchor innovation and strategy in data and evidence.
  • Sixth is savvy networker. A potential leader builds relationships with colleagues and taps into the resources that he does not normally have access to but which can be reached through others.

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