How To Grow Leaders with Support from People and Culture

One of the best ways that busy leaders can grow leaders is to get buy-in from all levels of the nonprofit organization. From the board of directors down to the administrative support staff, everyone needs to believe in the importance of developing leaders. In addition to support from people, there needs to be support from the systems and culture of the organization. Here is a brief outline of the people and culture that you need support from in order to develop potential leaders in churches and nonprofit organizations. 

How To Grow Leaders with Support from People and Culture

Photo Credit: Pearl


To develop leaders in nonprofit organizations, Tom Adams says “top leadership commitment is the place to start” (Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide, 230). Within nonprofit organizations top leadership is the board of directors. The board of a nonprofit holds more authority than any staff position in a nonprofit organization because the board is the governing arm that makes decisions about the CEO, key staff, budgets, and mission. Within a church the board is often called “elders” or a “leadership board” and according to Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini, the leadership board needs to support the development of leaders because the leadership board “in many ministries is more influential than the pastor” (Building Leaders108)


Once support for the development of leaders has been established from the board of directors, the second most important person is the president or CEO. While the board might be more influential than any staff member of a nonprofit, Kirk Kramer and Preeta Nayak state that in an organization “no other staff member has more influence over the norms of an organization than the CEO” (Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders?, 48) Furthermore, Malphurs and Mancini agree that the CEO must support leadership development because if this person “resists, drags his heels, or shows no interest in raising up this and the next generation of leaders, it won’t happen” (p. 107).

Obtaining support from the CEO starts with the board seeing the value of leadership development and taking necessary steps to implement development of the CEO. This means the board evaluates the CEO regularly and in that process helps the CEO identify his own professional development goals. In other own words, the first step to effectively develop potential leaders is to have a CEO that is actively developing himself (Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 39).

B. Managerial Staff

For development of leaders to be effective, the board of directors must support it, the CEO must provide support, and managerial staff must support the idea of developing leaders. According to Malphurs and Mancini the managerial staff are the main players “involved in the process and mentoring emerging leaders” (Building Leaders, 108). Managerial staff are crucial to leadership development because these are the people that will develop potential leaders throughout the organization.

Tom Adams, in his book The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide, advocates that nonprofits should look three to five years in their future to see what their leadership needs will be at that time. Once the board and CEO have determined what those needs are, a leadership development plan should be created and “completed by the CEO, board, and appropriate staff” (Adams, Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development, 256, emphasis added). The “appropriate staff” are the people who will do the day-to-day work of developing potential leaders. The process of leadership development might never succeed if the board and CEO do not support it. If managerial staff do not support leadership development, it will occur but not very well.

C. Nonpositional Leaders

Lastly, the leaders in the organization that do not have an official position of leadership need to support leadership development (these people are called “nonpositional leaders”). Within churches this might be most important because, according to Malphurs and Mancini “nonpositional leaders may actually lead the congregation” (Building Leaders, 110). Nonpositional leaders might lead or might not lead, but these are the recipients of the leadership development program. Consequently, nonpositional leaders must buy-in to the process of developing leaders.


The culture of an organization is important because if the culture supports learning and leadership development, then it will happen. If the culture does not provide support for leadership development, no amount of pushing from staff or board will have much of an impact. In his book Informal Learning in Organizations, Robin Hoyle makes the important point that “culture can have an impact [on learning], not only on how people learn but what they learn as well” (p. 68). There are four areas in an organization that can support leadership development.

A. Mission

Part of getting support for leadership development is to do what Skip Bell calls, “rethinking mission.” Rethinking mission means that an organization focuses on its area of service while also creating a mission “in which personal transformation of its members is sought” (“Learning, Changing, and Doing,” in the Journal of Religious Leadership, 107). In this way, an organization creates a marriage between its mission to serve the community and its development of the people who carry out that mission. This means that mission is no longer an accomplishment or goal, but instead the mission becomes developing people who learn, change, and do while producing a product or service. Part of developing systems that support leadership development is having a mission that supports it.

B. Responsibility

A culture needs to be created in which responsibility is taken by learners. This means learners assess their skills and knowledge and determine where they need improvement. Both the learner and the organization need to place the responsibility on the learner. According to Robin Hoyle, “The organization has a requirement to create the environment in which learners can learn from their peers and can take responsibility for updating their own skills and knowledge. Even where individuals are not part of a large organization, learners are helped by a similar culture that expects professionals to continually learn and develop their practice” (Informal Leadership in Organizations, 38).

C. Freedom

The culture of an organization also needs to provide potential leaders with some level of freedom to try new things and experiment. This means potential leaders need both freedom to try new things and they need support from leadership after having tried new projects and tasks. If potential leaders know they will be ridiculed and punished for doing something wrong they will never try new things. Therefore, a balance of freedom to try new things and support after the work has been completed needs to exist in order to support leadership development.

D. Budget

The last and most tangible expression of a culture that supports leadership development is an organization’s budget. While some people might see money invested in leadership development as discretionary, it is essential that funds are adequately provided to ensure that leadership development can happen in formal contexts (as will be discussed later). The implementation of a budget that supports nonprofit leadership development must be supported by both the CEO and the board in order to acquire the necessary resources to support leadership development.

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