I don't know who coined the phrase "leaders are learners", but it is an axiom I try and embody. I think all great leaders are not only people who others follow, but they are people who strive to continue to be better at leading. For those who want to lead in the church, this is essentially a non-negotiable in my opinion. I believe that a leader who stops learning, stops leading.
To this end, I have tried numerous leadership contexts for developing my own leadership. All have their strengths and weaknesses.
BOOKS: "Leaders are readers" is also a true axiom. I believe that a key way to be mentored is to read the writings of leaders from multiple genres. The problem is, no matter how well they are written, they're a one way communication device. I can't interact with the author as I read, respond to his or her with disagreements, or ask clarifying questions of leadership premises.
CLASSES: I have taken several formal leadership classes from accredited institutions. I have read required reading, written papers on the subject, and logged hundreds of hours toward the goal. Sometimes they are helpful. Most of the time, the prof and/or material we discuss does not seem to see them through the lens of a $200 per session seminars that I do. But their biggest problem for me is that their curriculum is based on an academic goal or requirement that may or may not produce a practical result in my own leadership context.
SEMINARS AND CONFERENCES: My most common and sought after leadership context is the seminar format. I still go to them and I still love them. (I even teach at them) They allow me to get close to some leaders I could not financially afford to connect with on a one-on-one leadership level. It's in a topic the attendees self-selected themselves for and therefore is often surrounded in a learning context that lends itself to camaraderie and common goals. But they can be like "drinking from a fire hose". Too much info crammed into too short a time. So much so that if I'm honest, much of it gets lost. Also, in as much as I can taylor my schedule of what I want to go to, I rarely if ever get to decide what content goes into the menu as a whole.
But, my most recently leadership learning was really not any of those categories. In many ways, it was the best of all 3. It was the Youth Ministry Coaching Program that Mark Oestreicher launched this last year and that 9 of us joined. I don't say this lightly, or because Marko is my friend, but it seriously was by far, "THE MOST EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP TRAINING ENVIRONMENT I'VE EVER BEEN IN."
Here's 4 reasons why I'm not just using hyperbole:
- IT'S CUSTOM DESIGNED: the overall content, the dates of our meetings, and even the agenda each month was spoken into by the constituents. So I got to custom design the content, my presentations, and my homework to what I needed for my life and my ministry.
- IT'S EASILY TRANSFERRABLE: since you're meeting every 2 months for 2 days, there is ample information to soak up and ample time to integrate your learnings into life and ministry.
- IT STRETCHED ME: yes I spoke into the content, but there was also content spoken into by the facilitator or by others in the group. The consequence of this is that I was stretched and tugged in ways I would not have normally chosen. I'm a better leader because of it.
- IT'S HIGHLY RELATIONAL: no other leadership context I've been in (excluding friendships I've formed over a decade+ of ministry together)... has produced the level of intimacy, vulnerability, and friendship that this experience did in a year. We literally did life and leadership together. No conference, class, or book is designed to do that to this degree.