Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Daddy, how are leaders made?

Today I happened to watch one of the ads that played during the Super Bowl, (for the first time as I don't watch sports), about a child asking his father where babies came from. The ad reminded me of a question I ask myself, where do leaders come from? Certainly Shakespeare was right to say that "some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them." However with leaders, Christians in particular, there is an aspect of leadership which comes from the work of mentors. These mentors are leaders who take time to grow other leaders. They do this by what I’ll call “impartation.”

Impartation, according to Webster means either "to give, convey or grant from...a store" or "to communicate knowledge." When I talk about impartation in relationship to Christian leadership, it has a more spiritual significance to it. Christian impartation is both an intellectual and spiritual gift, given by a mentor. These impartations are things like: understanding how leadership is to be done, how to handle the various struggles that a leader can encounter, and how to mentor other leaders. The spiritual aspect is a giving of what the church calls "spiritual gifts" which are God given abilities or expertise that help the Christian to do what they are called to do. These gifts can include teaching, preaching, administration, compassion and other talents or abilities. Now, for those who aren't too religious and reading this, please don't be too put off by the metaphysical nature of this. The spiritual aspect of impartation may be uniquely Christian, but this intellectual impartation is something that every leader should receive. A mentor’s impartation is the means by which good leaders are made great leaders.

How does a good mentor make this good leader? It starts with the example that they set. In creative writing we are told "show, don't tell." A good writer describes the scene for the reader, instead of just giving them bland facts. Instead of just writing a book or preaching a sermon, a good mentor shows parts of leadership like getting vision and dealing with failure by actually doing it. Next, a mentor listens to their mentee, allowing for the mentee to express his or her's ideas, concerns and problems. I have had opportunities to mentor quite a few young men, and more often than not, what they need isn't my advice, but rather my quietness as they work through the problem. Finally, a mentor gives the mentee a place to work. A mentor in my life, who continues to be an inspiration, was a guy named Jason. Jason led the youth at my church, and as a gangly, geeky 15 year old, (I haven't changed much), he took the time to mentor me. Jason let me lead a small guy's bible study and gave me the rein to take it where I wanted. He continued to watch out for me, and give me advice when I needed it, but allowed me to lead in a safe environment.

A great example of mentor impartation is in a guy named Timothy. Timothy was a timid young guy who wanted to lead the church. Unfortunately, he was not experienced in leading, and not particularly gifted at it. Thankfully, there was a guy named Paul, who became a sort of spiritual father to Timothy. Paul brought Timothy around with him as he taught, mentored and preached (Acts 16:1-5). Paul listened to timothy, and sent him letters full of advice which still set an example for Christian leadership. Lastly, Paul gave Timothy a place to lead. Paul brought Timothy to a town called Ephesus and put him in a place of leadership there. There were other solid leaders there who would help Timothy to lead the people, and Paul saw that Timothy had the strength of character to handle the work. Timothy then went on to mentor other leaders, and the cycle repeated itself.

These mentors who make leaders are part of an ongoing process that continues today. This is not restricted to the church, but to the whole world. The more I study leadership, the more I am convinced that leaders are not simple born in greatness, but molded, crafted and forged. Even Alexander the Great, a man who fits the definition of a man born to lead, had a mentor, Aristotle (Melchert, 157). The impartation of a good mentor into a leader's life can result in great leader. Jason imparted to me the ability to lead, and the knowledge of how to do it. My goal is to impart that knowledge, along with any more I learn along the way, to another. I do this so that they can do something even greater. In short, good mentors make great leaders, great leaders are great mentors and make even greater leaders.

For personal application, this week I am going to identify at least five people whom I am currently mentoring, (intentionally or not), and find ways to better encourage them in their giftings, be it in leadership or other places.

Melchert, Norman. "The Great Conversation", Boston, Ma: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. 2002. Print.


  1. I would say "mentoring programs" fail. To mentor someone, one has to know oneself, get to know the other person and understand what you are mentoring in...such as leadership. This means following a program won't work, there has to be fluidity and leading by example in real life not laboratory settings. Just my thoughts.

  2. Leadership *can* be taught in a program (e.g., West Point, ROTC); however, leadership needs both classroom instruction in the principles and - as your mother intimated - actual application in the the field; the Army has several enlisted schools geared towards leadership development: Warrior Leader Course, Advanced Leader Course, Senior Leader Course and Ranger School for both enlisted and officers. The first three have classroom components followed by field exercises and Ranger School is a leadership course without parallel in a hands-on, graded environment with very little class time under extreme mental, emotional, and physical stresses exceeding the conditions of combat. That being said, it also important to have mentors who have 'Been There, Done That' and have demonstrated the incorporation of those leadership principles in their careers and in life.

  3. What a great discussion above! I agree with both Cindy and Chris here. Some mentorship programs fail miserably, especially if they're "paid" mentorships for mentorship's sake. But natural mentorships, like those in medical fields where more experienced physicians or nurses support new practitioners to the field can be nothing short of absolutely necessary. Some of these set-ups can follow "guidelines" to make sure the trainee gets wholesale coverage, but I agree also that a more natural, mutually beneficial arrangement can arise informally when both mentor and mentee get something from the relationship. One of my favorite mentors was my actual professorial "mentor" who was assigned to teach me the ropes here at NOVA. I credit her for challenging me to enter into a Ph.D. program and to see it through!