Four On-Ramps to Personal Leadership Development

Below are four proven pathways to personal leadership development that fellow leaders have passed along to me and have now become lifetime habits.

This is one of 15 core posts in RE-think: Campus Crusade’s 3rd Annual Blogference, running April 13-15, 2010. Please join the conversation.

“Own your own development” we’ve been told. In an age of overload we need to RE-think how to cultivate our own personal leadership development. Though I must take responsibility to make wise choices, ultimately it’s God who causes the growth in my life. Below are four proven pathways to personal growth that fellow leaders have passed along to me and have now become lifetime habits.

Expose yourself to other leaders and study how they lead. Good leaders are all around us. How do they make decisions? How do they create an environment for productive group interaction? How do they inspire hope while authentically revealing their own struggles and doubts? Buy someone lunch and ask him or her how they balance the eternal leadership tensions between people and production; setting direction and releasing others; short-term results and long-term impact.

Read deep and wide. Scan broadly. Constantly skim, noticing trends in topics and conversations. Get to know a handful of ancient and contemporary authors’ voices. As you identify authors and bloggers that speak to you, follow their thinking through the years. Yes, years. You’re in this for the long haul, right? Read and reread selectively. Reflect, chew, pray, and digest. Seek wisdom and personal transformation. If you need some ideas, here’s my 2010 Leadership Reading List.

Embrace divine displacement. Consider these personal LD plans: Moses spent 40 years in the desert (twice), Joseph languished 13 years in prison, Ruth endured famine for 10 years then became widowed, and David hid in caves for 7 years. Interviews with hundreds of business and ministry leaders consistently reveal that the majority of developmental experiences occur in-the-trenches (32%), during times of significant transition (27%), or in personal relationships (23%). Note that formal training content is a distant fourth. Leaders develop as they are doing their work and leading on the edge of their comfort zones.* One essential developmental task of Christian leadership involves forging a personal theology of suffering that embraces blocked goals, unmet expectations and broken people (see Romans 5:3-5). God’s LD plan typically leads us toward whole-hearted dependence upon him rather than finding easier ways to make life work without him.

Act on what you know. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17). No matter what scope of responsibility you’ve been entrusted with, leading and serving other people gets complicated. There will always be more great ideas to consider, more trends to analyze, more people to consult, and more needs than you can possibly meet. Today’s information explosion can freeze us into analysis paralysis. Effective leaders focus their actions and own the gap between knowing and doing. In our noisy world Jesus’ voice beckons: Act on what you know.

Join the conversation: What is working (or lacking) in your personal approach to leadership development?

*Source: McKenna, Robert B., and Paul R. Yost. “Leadership Development and Clergy: Understanding the Events and Lessons That Shape Pastoral Leaders.” Journal of Psychology & Theology 35, no. 3 (2007): 179-189.

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

2 replies on “Four On-Ramps to Personal Leadership Development”

We’ve had perfectly good plans fall to pieces over the past 6 months. Your point on embracing divine displacement was such an encouragement to me today. Thanks for sharing this. -ross

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