How to Identify Potential Leaders

One of the most important tasks of a pastor is developing other leaders, but where in the world do you find them? I don’t know about you, but this is a huge frustration for me. The idea of leading just seems to be foreign to a lot of people in small towns. They’ve grown up in churches where this was never talked about, so they often don’t see the importance. So, how do you and I go about identifying potential leaders?

This post is part of a six part series on leadership development, largely taken from my notes on John Maxwell’s book, Developing the Leaders Around You. You can check out the first post in the series here.

In the six years or so I’ve been serving in my current role, I’ve been responsible for placing quite a few leaders over various ministries. Some of them have worked out, and some haven’t.

I saw potential in all of them, which is a problem because I’ve been wrong more than a handful of times. And being wrong is costly.

When you choose poorly, the ministry suffers, the organization suffers, and the person you chose ends up suffering.

I’ve had to admit that I need to get better at identifying potential. Liking the person isn’t enough. The person being reliable isn’t enough. The person being loyal isn’t enough.

There’s a lot more that has to go in to identifying these people. Otherwise, I keep making mistakes, and the organization keeps suffering.

So, I came up with a new list based on what John Maxwell looks for and my own observations. Hopefully, this will help you as well.

  1. Character. There’s nothing more important than this, especially when we’re talking about serving in the local church. If a candidate has a history of not taking responsibility for their actions, not fulfilling obligations, or failing to meet deadlines, you have a character issue.
  2. Influence. In the past I’ve made the mistake of overlooking this one. I can’t afford to make that mistake anymore. If they’re going to be a successful leader, they have to be able to influence others.
  3. Positive Attitude. This is another one that I haven’t put enough emphasis on in the past. Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you ignore problems. You just tackle them in a positive way. This is one of the most important assets a leader can have.
  4. People Skills. Maxwell says, “A leader without people skills soon has no followers.” A leader needs to be able to connect with people by showing concern for them, encouraging them, and caring for them.
  5. Confidence. This is another one I’ve often overlooked, but confidence attracts people. Confidence is also contagious. Just be careful that confidence doesn’t turn into pride.
  6. Self-Discipline. Self-discipline is so rare these days. I struggle with it myself. But if you can find someone who is disciplined in handling their emotions and managing their time, you may have found a potential leader.
  7. Communication Skills. One of the hardest skills for most people is being able to communicate effectively. But it’s necessary if you’re going to lead. They don’t have to be Billy Graham, but they do need to be friendly, be able to focus on the people they’re talking to, and be able to communicate in a variety of ways.
  8. Not Satisfied. I would’ve never thought of this one on my own, but it’s so true. This doesn’t mean the person’s negative, it just means they are always looking for how to improve or achieve more.

As you look over this list, you may think, there’s no one in my church with all of those characteristics. I kind of feel the same way. But what if you printed off several copies of this list and wrote a potential leader’s name at the top of each of one? Then go down the list and circle the characteristics that each leader has. Maybe they don’t meet all the requirements, but can you develop the one’s they lack? If you can, you may have yourself a great leader.

What would you add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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5 thoughts on “How to Identify Potential Leaders

  1. Great post Travis! Ministry leaders tend to have a bent towards seeing the potential people have if they would only surrender to God. We have to see that potential, but we also have to see how big that IF is! Often times potential is a great indicator of finding someone that we need to develop but not necessarily place in leadership just yet.

    • As pastors we just want to see the good in everyone, unfortunately it doesn’t always pan out like we’d like.

  2. That is a great list. I really like the idea of putting a potential leaders name at the top of the page and evaluate them. The only thing that I might add to the list is “generosity”. Especially in a church environment. A leader who does not invest their own resources into the ministry they serve comes across as a phony.

  3. I think there are many people in the church would be willing to serve but don’t know what the requirements are of themselves or what is expected of them. For any one that has never served it could make him or her nervous about signing up. Lots of times, if you see potential in some one he or she may need to be nudged a little bit. I know I have done things I would have never done if I hadn’t been asked. Serving in a church is an honor and a pleasure, even though some times it can take up time we would like to be doing something else, but the church comes first.