Growing as a Leader: Look Outside and Inside

As a teenager in a small Baptist church, I was often given opportunities to grow as a leader. I may not have had the deepest understanding of preschool development, but the church was desperate for someone to “teach the Beginners” in Church Training. I was willing. Advice from a wise longtime teacher encouraged me: “Joyce, act like you know what you’re doing with the children.” So I did. Both the Beginners and I survived.

“Act like” in this context means to assume the role. Call to mind a vision of a more experienced leader, and put yourself in her shoes. Do what you imagine Mrs. B would do.   

Since those early days of trying on various leadership roles, I’ve discovered that leadership can often be reduced—and more easily understood—in terms of a balance between inner and outer.

Outer Leadership

Outer leadership is what you do that others readily observe. Do you lack experience at presiding over meetings? Reflect on someone whom you have witnessed in that role, and simply act like him or her. I call to mind the grace and poise of countless women whom I have watched as they presided, and I try to emulate them. They have relied on agendas and Roberts Rules of Order, and they have practiced great listening skills. And
so do I.

Missions leaders who live out their commitment to missions by participating in hands-on ministry and making time for missions trips and who have taken time to encourage me are leaders whose memories I hold dear. I want to be like them.

Outer leadership relies heavily on a skill set that is within reach of any missions leader. Familiarity with group dynamics is a guarantee to team productivity and effectiveness. A straightforward approach to working with teams is outlined in TeamsWork. Outer leadership is enhanced by self-awareness of areas where you need to grow. Technology provides a great opportunity to deepen new skills ranging from written communication to long-range planning.

Inner Leadership

Pondering inner leadership is an invitation for the leader to reflect. Not everyone keeps a journal. For those who write in a journal regularly, areas of leadership growth often surface. A glance back at recent journal entries may alert the leader to an area that needs attention: consistent prayer for missions, for example.

If you don’t keep a journal, perhaps your deep thinking time occurs during your daily walk or as you observe a brilliant sunset. What prompts does God give you that clear the way for Him to speak to you?

Most importantly, as you become aware of a nudge toward a new goal in your personal growth as a leader, how do you respond? What’s the first step?

Missions Model

As a young adult, I met Miss Alma Hunt. I observed her in action and was privileged to be part of audiences to whom she “told mission stories.” My promise to myself was to try to emulate Miss Alma. In trying circumstances, think of the humorous elements of the situation, and be prepared to share a lesson from the experience. She was a worthy model.

Joyce Mitchell, retired WMU leadership development staff member, is the author of Soul Spa and TeamsWork.

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