How to Develop Young Leaders by Keith Webb (Part 1)

Master coach, Keith Webb (see, recently wrote this helpful article that will introduce the next series of blogs on the topic of Leading with a Developmental Bias.

Young leaders are often anxious to get into action. They feel prepared and ready to make a difference. Yet, the workplace is littered with the wreckage caused by those with authority but not wisdom to lead.  Leader development is about going in before going out. The Little-Much Principle will help you develop young (and old) leaders.

Young leaders want to concentrate their efforts on developing skills and accomplishing something of significance.

I knew a 24 year-old who was frustrated with his job because his company wouldn’t put him in a role where he could focus on his strengths and passions. He felt he was more capable than his manager. And he thought he should be in charge of not only the team, but the larger work group. He had been with the company only 3 months!

This isn’t a story about one millennial’s sense of entitlement. It happened 30 years ago. This story is repeated every generation because of a common misunderstanding of how leaders develop.

Leader development researcher, J. Robert Clinton, found that young leaders need to have broad experience; do many different types of tasks; and work on inner character values in order to develop their strengths, character, skills, and identify their calling.

Missing early development in a leader’s life, Clinton found, often leads to stalled development, crisis, or unfulfilled potential as a leader.

Jesus’ Little-Much Principle

Clinton points to Jesus, arguably one of the best at developing leaders. Jesus began with a group of hot-headed fishermen, a socially-scorned tax collector, and a few other people from the margins of society. After just three years of working with them, these leaders went on to change the world.

Fortunately, Jesus left us His principle of leader development. Here it is:

 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10

Young leaders feel ready for big, fast, and significant.  Jesus took a different approach. Jesus viewed leader development as more about who the leader is rather than what he or she can do.

Jesus focused on the internal development of the leader – going in before going out. Because who you are is how you will lead.

What internal development is needed? Young leaders must develop:

  • Their influence
  • Submission to authority
  • Personal integrity
  • Relational abilities
  • Conflict management
  • Character

The early, small lessons learned in these areas will form the foundation on which a leader stands. Later, when the stakes are high and the pressure is great, the leader who was faithful with little will most likely succeed with much.

Next blog: How to Develop Young Leaders, Part 2


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