How to Develop Potential Leaders Leadership

How to Develop Leaders by Using Your Key People and Organizational Culture

To develop leaders, there must be buy-in from all levels of the organization. From the board of directors or elders down to the administrative support staff, everyone needs to believe in the importance of developing leaders. Besides support from people, there needs to be support from the systems and culture of the organization.

How to Develop Leaders by Using Your Key People and Organizational Culture

Photo Credit: Robert Sullivan


Board of Directors and Elders

To develop leaders in nonprofit organizations, Tom Adams says, “Top leadership commitment is the place to start.”[ref]Tom Adams, The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 230.[/ref] 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” (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3) or a “leadership board,” and according to Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini, the leadership board “in many ministries is more influential than the pastor.”[ref]Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini, Building Leaders: Blueprints for Developing Leadership at Every Level of Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 108.[/ref] Therefore, conversations about leadership development of potential leaders start with the board of directors and elders. This can be done by bringing research and case studies to board meetings showing how leadership development will improve the organization.


Once support for developing leaders has been established from the board of directors, the second most important person is the president or CEO in a nonprofit or senior pastor in a church. (I see “pastor” and “elder” as two terms used to describe the same person doing the same ministry in the New Testament.)

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.”[ref]Kirk Kramer and Preeta Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? (Boston, MA: Bridgespan Group, 2013), 48.[/ref] Malphurs and Mancini agree that the CEO or pastor 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.”[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 107.[/ref]

Obtaining support from the CEO or pastor starts with the board seeing the value of leadership development and taking the necessary steps to implement development of the CEO or pastor. This means the board evaluates the CEO regularly and in that process helps the CEO identify his own professional development goals.[ref]Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 39.[/ref]

In other own words, the second step to effectively developing potential leaders is to have a CEO actively developing himself.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] The first step to getting CEO support for leadership development is to have the CEO create her own leadership development plan. (A leadership development plan will be explained later in chapter six of this book.)

Managerial Staff

According to Malphurs and Mancini, the managerial staff are the main players “involved in the process and mentoring emerging leaders.”[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 108.[/ref] Managerial staff are crucial to leadership development because these are the people that will directly 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. 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.”[ref]Adams, Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development, 256 (emphasis added).[/ref] 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 occur if the board and CEO do not support it. If managerial staff do not support leadership development, it will occur but not very well.

Before approaching managerial staff about developing potential leaders make sure that the board of directors and CEO have each signed off on leadership development. Then, approach managerial staff saying they need to actively look for potential individuals to develop into leaders. That active process of leadership development is discussed in chapters four through seven.

Non-positional Leaders

Last, the leaders in the organization without an official position of leadership need to support leadership development. These people are called “non-positional leaders”.

Within churches this might be most important because according to Malphurs and Mancini, “non-positional leaders may actually lead the congregation.”[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 110.[/ref] Non-positional leaders are the recipients of the leadership development program. Consequently, non-positional leaders must buy-in to the process of developing leaders.

Non-positional leaders are perhaps the most difficult people to get buy-in for the leadership development process. In a later blog post I will provide a list of qualities and skills that will help management staff evaluate which non-positional leaders to get buy-in from (because those will be the people who are actively developed).


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 the board will make an impact.[ref]Robin Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations: How to Create a Continuous Learning Culture (Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited, 2015), 68.[/ref]

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.”[ref]Ibid., 68 (emphasis added).[/ref] Four areas in an organization’s culture can support leadership development.


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.”[ref]Bell, “Learning, Changing, and Doing,” 107.[/ref]

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.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Part of developing systems that support leadership development is having a mission that supports it.


A culture must 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 must 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.”[ref]Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 38.[/ref]


The culture of an organization also must provide potential leaders with some level of freedom to try new things and experiment. If potential leaders know they will be ridiculed and punished for doing something wrong, they will never try new things. Instead, potential leaders must be supported to try new and innovative practices that might improve their work and the organization they work for.

Therefore, a balance of freedom to try new things and support after the work has been completed needs to exist to support leadership development.[ref]Ibid., 44.[/ref]


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).[ref]Adams, Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development, 230.[/ref] Implementing a budget that supports nonprofit leadership development must be supported by both the CEO and the board to acquire the resources to support leadership development.[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 110-111.[/ref]

However, just because an organization’s budget provides financial support for leadership development does not mean that leadership development occurs. For good leadership development there needs to be financial resources to support the leadership development plans created and implemented by potential leaders.


The first step to developing potential leaders in an organization is to ensure the organization will support the process. And, by organization I mean the people who work there and the overall culture. When it is determined that the organization will support leadership development, the next step is to identify potential leaders for 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