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Reliability: The Key to Growing Young Leaders

I love the activist streak I see in a lot of young people. Many of them see a problem and their first solution is to start a nonprofit to solve the problem. Then they seek my advice about it. Here’s how my conversation with them usually goes:   “Don’t do it.” “Why?  “You haven’t lea…
By Seth Barnes
I love the activist streak I see in a lot of young people. Many of them see a problem and their first solution is to start a nonprofit to solve the problem. Then they seek my advice about it. Here’s how my conversation with them usually goes:
 
“Don’t do it.”
“Why? 
“You haven’t learned enough about what it’s going to take. The vast majority of startups fail because of that gap in understanding.”
“What else do I need to learn?”
“Well, for one thing, you could learn about how to grow as a leader by proving yourself reliable.”
“How do I do that?”
“Consider serving someone else who is already working on the problem.”*
 
It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I didn’t understand what the Bible said about it – I bumbled along instead. I wish I’d understood 2 Timothy 2:2 when I was young. It shows a biblical pattern of leadership development: “The things you (Timothy) have heard me (Paul) say…entrust to reliable people who will…teach others.” 

One of the key things Jesus wants us to do is develop reliable leaders. He says, “I’ll make you fishers of men” – meaning, he’ll give us the occupation of finding people and leading them into the kingdom. 
 
We can’t make disciples if we don’t make reliable leaders. We have to learn to lead if we are to become disciple-makers.
 

Paul had to learn reliability

 
Paul had to first become trustworthy himself. He had to become a reliable person. When you read the story in Acts 8-9, you see a simple three-act play.
  1. In scene one, Paul is persecuting the disciples and they scatter.
  2. In scene two, he meets Jesus, switches his allegiance, and immediately begins preaching.
  3. Then, in scene three, we see that the disciples don’t trust Paul (Acts 9:26) and he has to spend three years in the desert before trying to establish a relationship with the disciples. (Gal. 1:17-18)
Paul had to take the time to grow into a new identity, learning what it meant to be a child of God – a son – before he could prove himself reliable. Eventually, as a reliable man, he was able to lead people into faith, pouring into others like Timothy, who in turn poured into reliable people.
 
Many young people want to skip this step. If you ask their supervisor, “Is this person reliable? Does he do the work assigned him on time?” Too often, you’ll hear the supervisor say, “No, he doesn’t, he’s not reliable.” 
 
Leaders are reliable
 
You can’t lead anyone unless they can count on you to do what you promise to do. 
 
A leader sees the future in his mind’s eye and then makes a promise about it to those he would lead. Something like, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
 
If you read the book of 2 Timothy, you’ll see in the final chapter of that book that Paul’s co-workers generally fall into two camps: those who are reliable and those who aren’t. Reliability engenders trust. If I trust you, you have the most important thing you need to lead me.
 
The unreliable people Paul lists included Demas, who Paul says, “deserted me” and  Alexander the metalworker who “did me a great deal of harm.” 
 
The reliable ones included Luke, Mark, and Tychicus. They worked alongside Paul. Paul had a lot of stuff he was leading – he was planting churches, writing much of the New Testament, and making disciples everywhere he went. He needed to make some leaders if the work was to continue!
 
So it is with us today. We need to make a few reliable leaders if our work is to continue. For example, if I make the promise that I’ll be on time, yet have a problem with procrastination, I need to be honest about that if I’m to become reliable.
 
Fours stages of leadership
 
That’s why we talk about these four stages of leadership development.
 
Stage 1:  Know yourself
Stage 2:  Lead yourself
Stage 3:  Know others
Stage 4:  Lead others
 
 
We can all grow as leaders – we just have to begin by understanding ourselves and then leading ourselves by becoming more reliable.
 
If that’s your aspiration, begin by becoming known for making promises and then following through and doing what you say. That is how reliability is built.
 
What do your co-workers say in private about your work? Finding out is often the best place to begin growing your leadership. Consider asking them for a 360 evaluation (an assessment where co-workers confidentially give you feedback).
 
The best leaders want to become reliable and are prepared to go through the pain of good feedback to get there. Getting a reality check and establishing a baseline is a great place to start.
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