The Making of a Leader

It’s not a new book (though who says new books are better?), but there is lots to consider in Robert Clinton’s 1988 book, The Making of a Leader.

In the foreword, Leighton Ford touches on an old leadership chestnut when he suggests that there are two mistakes to be avoided: one is to say that leaders are born, God calls them, and that’s that; the other is to say that leaders can be produced by means of the correct techniques. The balanced view is that God is the author of leadership but that he uses various processes to shape the leaders he gives. Clinton’s book aims to throw light on the processes and patterns God uses.

For Clinton, it’s important to distinguish between leadership development and leadership training. The first is broader and the second is part of the overall process of the first. Clinton sums up his theory of leadership development like this:

God develops a leader over a lifetime. That development is a function of the use of events and people to impress leadership lessons upon a leader (processing), time, and leader response. Processing is central to the theory. All leaders can point to critical incidents in their lives where God taught them something very important.

A key concept in Clinton’s thinking is the timeline. Each leader has a unique timeline, but it possible to trace some general patterns.

  • Phase 1: Sovereign foundations – with an emphasis on the providence of God in family and environment.
  • Phase 2: Inner-life growth – in which character is developed in various tests and ministry is engaged. Character is vital.
  • Phase 3: Ministry maturing – Clinton devotes two chapters to the four items he suggests comprise this phase: entry, with its ministry task and ministry challenge; training, where skills and gifts are discovered and identified; relational learning, which raises issues of authority; and discernment. This third phase is further divided into early, middle and later phases, each with its range of process items.
  • Phase 4: Life maturing – (what Clinton calls ‘the deepening lessons’). Here he introduces what he calls the reflective evaluation pattern (which seems to me to share at least some of the marks of Warren Bennis’ crucibles. One of the process items connected with reflective evaluation is isolation, when a leader is separated from normal involvement ‘and experiences some aspect of relationship to God in a new or deeper way.’ Conflict and crises also form part of this phase.
  • Phase 5: Convergence – in this phase, the leader’s ministry is maximised: ‘The leader uses the best he has to offer and is freed from ministry for which he is not gifted or suited.’ Clinton acknowledges that not every leader gets to enjoy this stage; some don’t get there because they do not adequately develop, while others may be hindered by the actions of the organisation they work for.
  • Phase 6: Afterglow – for a very few leaders who have a recognition and an influence after a lifetime.

The phases are distinguished in a number of ways. Different phases are marked by different kinds of process items. There are specific boundary events between phases. And the spheres are marked by different spheres of influence.

A further important concept is the concept of a ministry philosophy. It’s being able to weave various lessons along the way into a philosophy that makes leaders effective. A good ministry philosophy combines biblical values with a grasp of the challenges of the times and an awareness of the leader’s unique gifts and development.

That will give you an overall idea of what the book has to offer. It is not a difficult book, though some of it is quite detailed – it even comes with an A-Z (W, actually) glossary of almost 150 terms. Over the next few days I will post some further posts on different aspects of the book.

Starting with Clinton’s definition of leadership and leaders.

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