Leadership Development: Emergence

It was William Shakespeare who said,

“Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Are leaders born or made? Are leaders in leadership because of natural giftedness or because they arose to the occasion at the time it was needed?

Leadership Development or Leadership Emergence

The first thing we need to establish if we’re going to have a working definition of leadership development is to differentiate it from leadership emergence.

There are three traits that relate to the emergence of a leader:

  1. inherited traits
  2. life experiences
  3. intentional cultivation

Inherited traits includes someone who may be naturally gifted in leadership, or someone who identifies leadership as a spiritual gift. Life experiences speak to the environment in which one grows during adolescence that determines which of those behavior patterns actually emerge. And intentional cultivation is the degree to which those patterns are encouraged and cultivated, as well as the barriers that keep one from becoming an effective leader.

All three of these work in tandem with each other, but it is within the last one (intentional cultivation) that “leadership development” is found.

So, basically, an adolescent approaches and continues into adulthood. Inherited traits, if there, are combined with life experiences. Then an individual’s leadership capacity is cultivated so that this person can reach his or her full potential. This is what we refer to as “leadership development.”

Therefore, for the purpose of developing Christ-centered leaders, leadership development – which is a subset of leadership emergence – can be defined as adult-focused[1], intentional cultivation that seeks to establish and enhance effective Christ-centered leadership practices. 

When speaking to this, Rick Sessoms says to us as a reminder:

With regards to Christ-centered leadership development, it is good to be reminded that God superintends the emergence of leaders and that He is the ultimate developer of Christ-centered leadership. Our role in intentional cultivation is to plant, water, and nurture emerging leaders with confidence that God will produce positive results in His time. This reminder is both instructive and encouraging as we seek to be instruments of change while recognizing our limitations in the lives of others.[2]

So, if leadership development is:


Intentional cultivation

That seeks to establish and enhance
effective Christ-centered leadership practices…

then how do we size up the task before us?

Stay tuned for part 4 next week

This blog post is the third in a five-part series that is asking the question, “What do we mean by leadership development?” You are welcome to join the discussion. You can read the first one here and part 2 here.

[1] From Leading with Story: “The above definition implies that leadership development focuses on adults. Certainly there are commendable efforts aimed at broadening the definition to include initiatives for youth, but those initiatives are better defined within the broader realm of leadership emergence. Youth have not had sufficient developmental life experiences to fully engage in adult leadership development.”

[2] Sessoms, Rick. Leading With Story: Cultivating Christ-centered Leaders in a Storycentric Generation. William Carey Library. 2016

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