How To Develop Young Leaders: The Little-Much Principle

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 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 expert, 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 fisherman, a socially-scorned tax collector, and a few other people from the margins of society. After just 3 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,
  • and 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.

How To Use the Little-Much Principle

The beauty of the Little-Much Principle is that you can use it in any situation. There are 4 big points to developing leaders this way:

  1. Give small tasks. Allow for mistakes of little consequence. Just as small wins build on each other, so will small tasks.
  2. Watch for internal challenges. The task is often just the vehicle to internal learning. It’s like the bun on a hamburger, it’s there to hold all the goodies inside. Ask the young leader to reflect on his or her experience. How were they challenged – not with the task – but challenge internally?
    • What influence / authority / integrity / relational challenges did you face?
    • What frustrations did you experience?
    • How did you respond? What was the process for you? How do you evaluate your response?
  3. Provide diverse opportunities. For young leaders the key to success is to say “yes” to diverse opportunities, roles, and tasks. Focus comes later. Diverse tasks will provide more internal challenges than sticking with the comfortable.
  4. Give more. If the young leader completes the task and “passes” the internal challenge, provide another task with increased responsibility and challenge. If the young leader doesn’t, then give another task at the same level. Perhaps this leader needs some extra coaching as well.

One of the hardest things about the Little-Much Principle is that the mature leader is often just as impatient as the young leader. We want results. Organizational results that translate to sales, market share, and bonuses. We have as much trouble focusing on the internal development of a young leaders as they do.

By focusing on the internal development of a leader using the Little-Much Principle we can help young leaders to shape character values in order to develop their strengths, character, skills and identify their calling.

Question: How have you benefited from the Little-Much Principle? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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