A 7 Minute Read - By Chris Bright - posted on September 3, 2020

How to create an awesome Leadership Pipeline

When it comes to leadership ability, there are two schools of thought. In the red corner there is the belief in born leaders. You could even go far as saying it’s a God-given gift, and indeed in Romans 12:8, leadership is listed as a divinely-bestowed gift. The thought is that you should be able to know a leader when you see one. People say things like, “there’s something on that person,” and we start using words like “anointing” and “calling” readily.

In the blue corner is the belief that leadership is a taught skill. Here it’s less about being a natural leader and more about learning the art of leadership. People in the blue corner will recommend leadership books and podcasts. They may not have been ‘natural leaders’ (if there is even such a thing in their view) and will point to learning and training as the reason for their success in leadership.

The reality, as is usually the case, is somewhere in the middle. Think about how the Apostle Paul talks about Prophecy. He both lists it as a gift (Eph 4:1; 1 Cor 12:28) but then also urges all believers to prophesy (1 Cor 14:1). I think the same applies to leadership. God gifts leadership to some, but also expects all of us to grow in our leadership abilities. That means there’s not a ‘them-and-us' situation. We’re all in the same boat.

What that also means is that leadership development doesn’t start with finding your next assistant pastor, it's for everyone. That begs the question, how do you develop a whole congregation in their leadership? The answer is to create a leadership development system.

To create a leadership development system, you need to create roles where people can take steps that gradually increase their level and weight of leadership. It’s called a Leadership Pipeline.

In Michael Gerber’s excellent book, The E-Myth Revisited, he tells a fable that is so common amongst small businesses. He talks about a woman who starts a pie shop. She loves making pies but realises there’s all these other aspects to running a business than just making pies. She hires someone to sort the other stuff (finance, marketing, sales and more) so she can get on with making the pies. Soon enough the employee is burned out and rushed off her feet, and quits leaving the pie shop owner with a huge whole to fill.

What the book helps the shop owner realise is that when she was running the business alone, the roles existed whether she knew it or not – sales, marketing, finance and more, there’s more than just making pies. The problem was that she didn’t develop leaders in these areas. Mastering an area then handing the area over to a leader, so that she became the leader of leaders.

This becomes even more acute when we transplant that into the church world. In the corporate world, you have the advantage of being able to hire someone to take leadership over a whole department. But in the church world, you’ve got to work with the hand you were dealt. Leaders can’t be bought, they must be developed.

That means that you’ve got to start at the ground level. Find the roles at church that exist whether anyone does them or not, then develop a leader to take that role, then move up to supervise them, then develop a supervisor to supervise them and so on, until all your roles now have the right leaders in the right place. That’s why creating a clear leadership Pipeline is so vital for your church.

Here’s a few things to think about when creating a leadership pipeline

1. It’s about the person’s development

This sounds so obvious, but it’s so true. The point of growing someone’s leadership capacity isn’t to turn everyone into pastors, and it’s definitely not to just fill a role, but instead it’s to help people to grow to the level of their calling. That could mean some become pastors and some don’t, that’s fine. Some will get to a certain level and never grow beyond it, but serve faithfully and excellently at their level. All of this should be celebrated.

2. Find the levels of leadership

You need to determine how many levels of leadership you want in your church. Too many, and you’ll make your church too bureaucratic, too few and you will make the steps of leadership too big. Somewhere between 4 and 6 is your aim.

3. Find the categories of leadership

The word ‘leadership’ is a broad term, and encompasses a number of different facets. Some of these are to do with the management of people, some are to do with strategy and some are to do with the person’s personal and spiritual leadership. Work out your own categories for leadership.

4. Define the competencies at each stage

When you’ve worked out the levels and the categories, you should have a pipeline grid. You can now work out what competencies are necessary to lead in each square of the grid. Try not to overload each square with too many competencies, otherwise it will get too cumbersome to use.

5. Run each person and role through the grid

Now you can start to look at where each role and each leader fits on this grid. Take some time to mark them against each category on the Pipeline grid. Which level are they leading at? You can then start to match the right leaders to the right roles. The goal with this is that you can start to get leaders to self-assess themselves against these criteria. This can then become the discussion point for leadership development conversations.

Need some help?

Creating a leadership pipeline is complicated, and it can seem like a daunting task to run through with your leadership team. Added to which, you’ll probably want to contribute to how the pipeline is shaped, which can be difficult when you’re also leading a meeting. No-one likes to feel like the leader is steering the meeting to their own pre-determined conclusion.

That’s why we provide on-site facilitation so that you can become a co-creator with your leadership team. We bring the process which will guide you to creating a leadership pipeline, but we don’t input as to the content, that’s for you and your team. If you’d like to find out more, book a free 1-hour consultation with us.