LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 43–“Train Your People to Become Leaders”

I once asked Pastor Mark Corts about his family. “I’ve never known such a group of overachievers. Your brother Tom is the president of Samford University; Paul is president of Wingate University. John Corts is the executive who runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And you pastor one of the greatest Southern Baptist Churches in the country.” (That would be Calvary Baptist in Winston-Salem. If you know these institutions, you will recognize that this conversation happened a few years back. Mark is in Heaven now, and his brothers have retired.)

Mark said, “And our sister is a missionary; don’t leave her out.”

I said, “You had to have incredible parents. Tell me about them. What did they do to bring this about?”

As I recall, Mark Corts said, “They were simple, salt-of-the-earth people. They gave us responsibilities and expected us to meet them. In our teens, we all held part-time jobs. They simply expected us to do well.”

That probably was not the dramatic answer I was expecting. Surely, I had thought, the parents had a plan for raising bright high-achieving children. I could just see a sermon series or at least some great illustrations resulting from the insights from this son of such illustrious parents. But that’s all I got.

Reflecting on that conversation, I realize now that Mr. and Mrs. Corts were doing something that was indeed every bit as dramatic as I had hoped: they were bringing up their children to be effective leaders. They did that by assigning them responsibilities that increased in size and scope as they grew, and by holding them accountable.

“Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” is the title of a book by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. They wanted to know why leaders were in such short supply, particularly since every strata of this society claims to place a high premium on leadership.

The writers came up with two answers. First, organizations say they want leaders but structure themselves so as to destroy budding leadership and to discourage initiative. They reward blind obedience and promote those who know how to play the corporate game.

The second reason there are so few leaders is that we simply do not know much about leadership and how to produce it.

We will grant the second point, but I’d like to comment on the first, that organizations and businesses often stifle leadership.


We’ve all seen families squelch independent thought or responsible behavior in their children. Domineering parents who can never slacken the reins to give the children any say-so over their own lives are raising dependent offspring, not independent well-functioning leaders. “You’re under my roof; you do what I say,” we can hear a mother or dad scream at their grown kid.

What’s wrong with this picture.

“Home Life” magazine for July 2006 carried the article “Who’s in Charge: Parenting is a real paradox” by James R. Lucas. This counselor points out that “full parental authority” is a delusion that “starts us down a road we aren’t equipped to travel. We don’t have what it takes–all-knowing wisdom, endless energy, perfect insight–to make all our children’s decisions or to control their lives.”

“Some parents, however,” Lucas continues, “never give up the delusion and cling to a domineering, micromanaging, nagging role that’s both ineffective and unbecoming.”

Now, transfer that same attitude into a business office or a factory and you quickly understand why some bosses never develop leaders out of their employees. They require blind obedience and reject all independent thought or probing questions. Such owners and managers are their own worst enemies.

In the church, in the home, or in industry, leaders should be training the people under them to become leaders who can replace them.

Watch a nature show on television. Notice how as the youthful lion or eagle grows into young adulthood, the parent nurtures it and protects it, but eventually pushes it out of the nest or runs it away from home. It’s the natural order of things for the parent to increasingly insist on independence in the offspring and for the young one to take more and more responsibility for its own welfare.

A parent or a minister interested in training those under him or her to become leaders will teach them, then give them small responsibilities with the time, resources, freedom, space, and guidance to do the job. This must always be followed by a time of accounting to see what was done, what was done well or poorly, and what lessons were learned.

Jesus acknowledged this principle when he said, “He who is faithful in little things will be faithful also in that which is much.” (Luke 16:10)

Next time, the tasks will be bigger and harder. A wise parent or minister will carefully select the next assignments, taking care not to overdo things.

A man I know turned over his business to his young adult son while he and his wife took an around-the-world trip. On their return a year later, the business was in shambles. It took the father a long time and a great deal of money to bring in experts to unravel all the problems. The son was so shattered, my opinion is he never fully recovered.

Reproducing oneself in the next generation is the point Paul makes to young Timothy. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)

This is so elementary, you would think the point does not need making. However, something inside some leaders refuses to cede authority and responsibility to those who come behind. Is it insecurity that makes a leader dominate the business, the church, the family, and will not give–even temporarily–a little of the authority for decision-making to the younger crowd? Is it fear, lack of self-confidence, or just plain vanilla arrogance?

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April of 1945, Vice President Harry Truman was ill-equipped to move into the Oval Office. Truman was FDR’s third v-p during his four administrations, yet none of them had been taken into the president’s confidence and even remotely prepared to lead the country if something happened to him. It was a major failure of a great leader.

The principle of leaders producing leaders is found numerous times in Old Testament scriptures. Here’s one of my favorites.

“God said to Moses, ‘Gather unto me 70 men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation that they may stand there with you. And I will come down and… take of the spirit which is upon you and will put it upon them. They shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you not bear it alone.'” (Numbers 11:16-17)

One wonders how Moses took this. My hunch is that he appreciated the help in easing the daily burdens of leadership. But from what we know of human nature, not every leader would have been so appreciative. There is a kind of masochism inside some head honchos that drives them to control everything around them, while carping unendingly about the burdens placed on them, yet resist any and all attempt from those who would lift a finger to ease those burdens.

Most of these leadership lessons have been directed primarily to pastors. This one has taken a little different slant, I admit. And yet we need to confess that we’ve known a few pastors along the way who exhibited all the worst traits of these manipulative controllers who restrained any of their members from developing leadership qualities. Their churches suffered greatly, too, as did the Kingdom of God.

We’ll let James Lucas have the last word here, and it’s a good one.

If anyone could be a domineering my-way-or-the-highway authority, it would surely be God, Lucas points out in the “Home Life” article. And yet, He does not deal with us that way. “He has power no parent has–to make people conform–and yet He doesn’t use it. Incredibly He shares power with us. God lets us make decisions, make a difference, make mistakes, and make reconciliation.”

The reason is simple: God is at work, turning us into leaders.

One thought on “LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 43–“Train Your People to Become Leaders”

  1. Years ago, Earle Nightengale quoted an author he had come across with this thought: “A good leader like a good parent says to those in his charge ‘you can become whatever you want – it is my job to help you get there.'”