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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
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.”
“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.

Comments (11)

  • Seth this is solid, mature and insightful direction. There have been seasons in my own life of being unreliable for a host of reasons ranging from insensitive entrepreneurship to battling my own demons with concomitant consternation in the wake. There have also been extended times when the V-8 engine of victorious living seems to have more than enough horsepower for my life and those around me. This is a good exhortation to “under promise & over deliver” while listening to the pains of those who watch every twitch of our hyperkinetic lives. Steady is better than spectacular. Ordinary faithfulness eclipses extraordinary unpredictable cycles. So we learn and grow. As you often hear in 12 Step groups…”Just for today”….”Do the next right thing”…”Half measures avail nothing…” If we are still breathing there is a pivoting possibility towards healthy change which equates to better leadership. I appreciate you.

    • We’ve all been at that place of struggling to do what we know is right. I appreciate your friendship and faithfulness after many seasons of testing, Butch.

  • Such a profound and timely word, Seth! I’m planning to share it with my group of teens next week. We’re studying the patriarchs of Genesis and next week will be highlighting Joseph and service. Thanks!

  • wow this is so great Seth! I love how you line up trust with leadership! It makes perfect sense and I never thought of it that way before. Thanks for sharing this…it is such great information especially for young adults who long to be leaders, but have no idea yet what that really looks like! You are a great role model and inspiration!

  • Thanks, Sissy. I love the story you are living. It reminds me of Amy Patton’s story. She went on a short-term trip in 2013. Then 2 years later, her daughter became a racer. And now she and her husband are preparing to go to Greece as a missionary. More here: http://amyepatton.com/blog/

  • Seth, thank you for this great read! At a time point in my Race when leadership could be changing any day, it is great to read about what it takes to become a better leader. I will definitely be able to apply these simple, but true, principles to my own growth. Thank you!

  • I’m learning so much about leadership from watching the leaders around me–how do they interact with people, how do they correct and encourage, how do they react in hard situations, who are they serving, etc. Do they do what they say they’re going to do, do they have my back, do they value my thoughts and opinions? I have given a fair amount of feedback to top leaders in different companies–how do they respond to that? Are they willing to learn, even from me–someone they supervise? Not that my feedback is always right but am I respected for offering it? Those are the leaders whose space I want to spend time in.

  • Just got back–I’m hanging out in what feels like my new home: the ATL airport. God did some remarkable things! I don’t even have words for it yet, but I think I have a new life hashtag: #thisisnttheWR

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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