Leadership Development IS Leadership Opportunity

“Why me?”

That was my first thought…and the first words out of my mouth.

“No, really…why me? I have no experience in this.”

It was a day that changed my life. I will never forget it.

I had known this man for several years. Successful, smart, funny, deeply committed to his faith in Christ, a teacher in an adult Sunday School class, a leader on the church elder board. He owned a well-known accounting firm and was on the leading edge of integrating technology into his business model.

His name is Steve Ocheltree and he had just asked me to be on the finance committee for our church. If you know me now, that may not seem odd, but you have to understand the context at the time.

I was young, had long hair (enough to put into a pony tail), wore torn shorts 364 days of the year, worked in the entertainment industry, was prideful, opinionated, was sometimes a punk, and knew little about finances. It was somewhere around 2002 and I had just started my own business. It was paying the bills…but just barely. I had been at this particular church for a long time, but I knew little of church leadership and even less of church finances.

But Steve was convinced I needed to serve on the church finance committee.

He and his wife took Brandy and I out for dinner. We just assumed it was a “thank you” since we babysat their kids the week earlier. But Steve had other intentions.

Over dinner he dropped the question…”Will you join me on the finance committee?”

I honestly thought he was crazy…nuts…misunderstood me for who I truly was. The ensuing conversation went something like this…

Steve – “I am just one man on the elder board {there were 12 at the time}. I express my opinions, voice my concerns, and vote my conscience. I am a part of something larger, but I really have no control of the ultimate direction of the church. But as the Treasurer of the elder board, I get to choose who is on the finance committee. I get to choose the direction. There are others there, but I choose you also.”

Me – “Why me? I have no experience in finance. I have no idea how the church should spend money.”

Steve – “I know. I don’t need somebody who knows those things. I need somebody who has vision for what the church should look like. Somebody who knows how to ask all the difficult questions. Somebody who isn’t going to ask questions that are always correlated to money.”

Me – “I just started my own company. I barely know how to run a small business. I’m still figuring everything out. I’m not sure I’m the right guy for this.”

I was genuinely concerned. I appreciated his offer, but I really didn’t think this was the position for me to serve the church.

Steve – “I need a leader.”

Me – “I’m not a leader, Steve.”

Steve – “You will be. Moses picked Joshua to lead the Israelites after he was gone. I’m picking you…not to lead the finance committee or be on the board. I can’t choose those people. But I can work with you, teach you, and let you be a part of the leadership process. You’ll be great!”

Me – “I think you’re an idiot.”

Steve – “Maybe.”

I reluctantly agreed…and so started my leadership development.

This is how I would have compared my leadership ability at the time of this conversation.

This is how I would have compared my leadership ability at the time of this conversation with Steve.

I was convinced that Steve had no idea what he was getting into by choosing me. I was loud, forward, asked lots of questions, gave my opinions, listened little, made assumptions, gave questionable presentations, and ticked off several of the other members numerous times.

And Steve just let me go for it.

He took me to lunch once a month and we talked about church, finances, leadership, vision, direction and church polity. He asked me how I was doing in my personal walk with Jesus. He asked me what I was learning from the committee meetings.

He challenged me.

Steve didn’t just fill the open position on the committee, he found somebody who didn’t initially fit…but might with some coaching. He saw a young kid that had potential, was forward thinking and wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.

You can talk a lot about leadership development, but when was the last time you chose a young cocky kid to make a presentation for the department you are responsible for to the senior-most level leaders of your organization?

Steve did. He asked me to make a presentation to the elder board on behalf of our committee. It was for a project that ran about $60,000 dollars and under normal circumstances, Steve should have been presenting the proposal since he was the Treasurer and leader of our team. But he asked me to do it. This was a lot of money for the situation and there was much to lose…not to mention my pride and Steve’s reputation.

Young eagles are born to fly. How will you keep them in your flock?

Young eagles are born to fly. How will you keep them in your organization?

Leadership development is more than having a Bible study on leadership. It is more than watching an Andy Stanley Leadership Video. It is more than taking some young people to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It is more than studying a leadership book with your staff. Leadership development IS leadership opportunity.

To steal the term from a great pastor/leader, leadership development is about finding the young eagles in your organization and actually letting them fly! Let them make mistakes, be opinionated, ask lots of questions, make assumptions, and tick off a few people along the way. Let them learn by DOING the leadership, DOING the work, DOING the ministry, DOING the business.

Larry Osborne, in his book Sticky Teams, writes “Young eagles are born to fly. It’s their nature. It’s how God made them. If they can’t fly high in our church, they’ll bolt and fly elsewhere.”

But guide them. Ask them the hard questions, ask them what they are learning, ask them what is stirring in their faith walk. But don’t just ask for their opinion. Give them the opportunity to actually lead!

Looking back, I’m not convinced Steve was ever really able to wrangle me in. But I’m also not convinced he ever tried. He knew I could be a leader…I just needed a push and needed the opportunity. I don’t think he ever imagined just how far it would take me!

I served on that committee for two years. Later I was asked to join the elder board and because of my experience with the finance committee, was appointed Treasurer. A year later I was hired by the same church to a full time paid position that involved far more than just overseeing finances.

Steve saw something in me I had never seen in myself…my own wings, my own potential. He pushed me out of the nest and hoped/knew/prayed/guided me to fly on my own.

This is what Steve saw in me.

This is what Steve saw in me.

The importance of leadership development was never explained to me. It was demonstrated to me, handed to me, experienced by me, and asked of me.

So who are you developing? Who have you chosen to join your team? Who are you investing in? Who are you giving the chance to actually lead?

Steve gave that chance to me and it changed the trajectory of my whole life.

Thanks Steve.

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