Coaching Young Leaders


Pastor Dan Reiland shares practical thoughts to help you better coach and mentor young leaders.

Coaching young leaders is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. I recently had lunch with six young college students who are summer interns at 12Stone® Church. I was impressed. They are all sharpies! Kevin Monahan our Next Gen Pastor, arranged this lunch as an informal time where the interns could ask me any leadership or ministry question they wanted to ask. They needed no prompt for questions, they were ready to go! 

Their questions were thoughtful, insightful, and genuine. As I listened to what they asked, and answered the best I could, some patterns began to emerge.  There was a pattern of things that seemed to find a similar connection through all of their questions. The pattern was more personal than professional. And the pattern reveals that they are hungry for mentors who care and won’t let them down.

As I drove back to the church I thought it might be helpful to capture some of the commonalities that came from their questions. My hope is these real and practical thoughts will help you better coach and mentor your young leaders.

Before I list these for you, here’s one tip from me to you on being a good coach. If you listen well, they will tell you how to coach them well! Yes, you bring your wisdom and experience to the table. But in order to be a good mentor, you need to stay fresh, relevant and “young-minded.” They are eager to help you do that if you give them a chance. Listen carefully to their questions, they are telling good stuff!  The important thing for you as the coach is to sustain a willingness to change and grow yourself. If you do, the young leaders will be much more naturally drawn to you.

Here are 4 things your young leaders need and want to know.

- Slow Down

It’s understandable that sharp young leaders want to rise up and conquer the world – fast. They live in a culture where everything is fast. So why not? The problem is that development can’t be rushed. Experience can’t be fast-tracked. My observation is that many young leaders start in smaller churches and get frustrated because there is nowhere to go, instead of taking time to develop their skills. The temptation is to jump to the next size larger church. The assumption is that their skills have developed and they grew something, when in many cases they merely moved to a larger environment. This isn’t bad or wrong, but it does often short-circuit development, especially if the young leader ends up over his or her head.  Now they must perform rather than develop. This performance trap can be devastating. So it is essential for young leaders to get in a place where the veteran leaders will invest in their development, and stay long enough so they can grow as a leader.

- Be Yourself

Many of us learned this the hard way, trying to be like someone else for a time. (Hopefully a short time.) It’s good to learn from and emulate your mentors, models and heroes. But it’s not wise to try to be like them. Young leaders need to be encouraged to be themselves. It’s important to coach them in the understanding that people like them best when they are truly themselves. That’s part of how genuine connection takes place. Not everyone will like them, but people will like any of us best when we are ourselves. The path to self-awareness and liking yourself so you can be real is a long road for some, but it’s worth the trip. Regardless of the length of the journey, all young leaders need to get there. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give as a coach, to help a young leader figure out and get comfortable with who they are.

 - Dig Deep

There is no substitute for discipline. We lift up the notion of working smarter not harder, and that’s good. But you can never get out of good old fashion hard work if you want to achieve your fullest potential. Another great gift you can give young leaders is to teach them the value of working hard. Talk with them about the truth that there are no short cuts in a life well lived.  Talk about the principle of pay now and play later. There is so much wisdom here you can pass on. Digging deep isn’t just about working hard at your job, but digging deep to learn more about God, self and others. The combination of a deeply reflective life and one that takes action is a powerful life. If you remove either component, that is, reflection without action, or action without reflection, the results are less than desirable. A life of significance, meaning and reward comes only by digging deep.

- Dream Big

Many young leaders are discouraged about the future. From what’s happening in local and national government to global issues, many are candid about a sense of frustration and even moments of a sense of hopelessness. Perhaps one of the very greatest gifts you can give as a coach is hope, hope for the future. There are two reasons why I have so much hope in difficult times. First, Christ is our hope for the future and no one can shut Him down! Church may look different in the future, but it cannot be stopped. Second, the young leaders themselves are our hope. They are the future. Let them know you believe in them! They will figure out a way for the church to thrive if we believe in them now.  It’s also important to empower young leaders now. They can’t lead in the future if we don’t let them practice now. So inspire your young leaders to dream big! Remind them that with God all things are possible, and give them opportunity to lead! Trust them with responsibility along with your guidance!

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