6 ways to nudge a potential leader

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I ask small group leaders often, “Who is your apprentice? Your Co-leader? What potential leaders do you have in your group?”

The reply I get more than any other is this:

Nobody in my group is anywhere near ready to lead other people.

I guarantee you, though, if I were to sit in their group meeting, I could pick out a handful of potential leaders.

I’ve found that the word “potential” is a tough word to grasp. We often jump right over it. Instead of “potential,” we hear “proven.” Or “ready.” Or “perfect.”

photo credit: Ahisgett (Creative Commons)

“Potential” is different. Think back to your days in science class, where you learned about the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. It’s the energy of work. The more work you do, the more kinetic energy you produce. The faster you move, the more kinetic energy you build up.

Potential energy is energy that’s stored up, waiting for an outside mover. Waiting for a nudge, a kick, or a “suggestion.” It’s hard to “see” potential energy. A roller coaster, at the top of a hill, has potential energy. A ball, just before it’s dropped, has lots of potential energy. A spring, when fully outstretched, has lots of potential energy.

When I’m sitting with a leader, asking what other “potential” leaders are present in their group, they are looking for “kinetic energy” leaders. They’re looking for someone who’s already leading. They want to suggest someone whose kinetic energy is building, not someone who has potential energy stored up.

Someone who has potential energy may look uncommitted and unmotivated. They may appear lazy. It may seem that they’re far from being ready to lead.

Seeing Potential

Seeing potential is tough, because you can’t look at who, or what, is in front of you. You’re looking at what’s in front of someone else. Often, what’s in front of them is something that they haven’t seen themselves. Potential energy isn’t moving mountains and creating waves. Potential energy may be sitting calmly, not realizing the kinetic energy right in front of them.

Which is exactly why they need a nudge. From you.

Here are 6 easy ways to nudge to a potential leader

1. Tell them that you believe in them. And mean it. Encouragement goes a long way in nudging a potential leader.

2. Tell them the potential you see in them. Help paint a picture for them of what could be if they were to lead.

3. Give them a chance to lead, and set things up for an easy win.

4. Ask for feedback on your own leadership. Ask them how they think you could improve.

5. Read a book on leadership…together. Meet as you’re reading through it, and discuss observations you find.

6. Give them authority over an area of your organization, or over a special project. Trust them to make decisions and lead well, and follow up to ensure they feel supported and are growing.


Do you find it difficult to spot potential leaders? How do you give them a nudge?

* photo credit: Ahisgett


Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.nosuperheroes.com Chris Lautsbaugh

    Fantastic post! Hits the nail on the head for me and my team! I especially like the thought that we pass over people cause they are not proven or perfect. If that were the criteria, how many of us would have ever qualified?!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      I sure wouldn’t be qualified, Chris!

  • Mike Mack

      Love the “science lesson, Ben! I’ve never thought of it this way before. Going to pass this on to our leaders here at Northeast.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      You bet, Mike! In a former life, I was a science major. And a nerd.

      Well, the nerd part still stuck with me…

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com/ Loren Pinilis

    This is something I’ve really struggled with. Raising up leaders under me is priority number one in my small group right now, but I’m really struggling to do it and do it well.
    Thanks for these pointers. I think doing these intentionally will be a great benefit. I’ve had problems with #6 though. I think I haven’t been giving enough guidance and support – so instead of feeling like I’m empowering them by giving them authority, it feels like I’m dumping chores. At least that’s my assessment. It’s my biggest disappointment in my leadership.I’ve been looking for a book or resource on how small group leaders can raise up other leaders. Do you have any recommendations?

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      I’ve liked “Small Groups with Purpose” by Steve Gladen. In it, Gladen covers Saddleback Church’s whole small groups system. Leader recruitment and retention are a part of their system. If you’re looking for small groups-specific stuff, that’s the one I’d suggest.

      I think this is how most leadership development goes. You’re wise in noticing it. It looks more like delegation and less like empowerment/equipping. It looks more like dumping tasks (that you don’t want to do anyway) on someone and overwhelming them with chores, rather than helping them develop into strong leaders.

      Hope that book helps. If you need other suggestions, let me know.

  • http://www.mynameisbrandon.com/ Brandon Smith

    Ben…this is great stuff. Thanks so much for sharing.

    I find that I can spot the potential in the leader…but the challenge, as you’ve stated, is helping our current leaders see the potential as well; both in themselves and in others.

    Great stuff!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yeah, that’s definitely a huge challenge. For me, I just try to constantly keep the word “potential” in front of current leaders. I also heavily emphasize our leadership development pipeline, so that leaders know that they can take a risk on an unproven leader, because they’re going to be walked through our development process.

      That’s given group leaders more leverage to take risks.

      • http://www.mynameisbrandon.com/ Brandon Smith

        I would love to hear more about (or see) your leadership development pipeline. Is it something you’ve articulated somewhere?

        • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

          As a matter of fact, yes. I’m guest posting on ChurchThought.com today. Check it: http://churchthought.com/guest-post-leadership-changes-in-the-new-year/

          • http://www.mynameisbrandon.com/ Brandon Smith

            Thanks, man. I look forward to reading!

  • Donna Hosler

    Thanks for the encouragement!!! As a home school mom, I need to remember all the POTENTIAL in my children….leaders among their peers, leaders in furthering God’s kingdom, now and in the future!~Donna

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      You bet, Donna…I hadn’t thought about it as it relates to children. But you’re so onto something there! Let me know how it goes.

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