I’m back after a short absence. I’ll try to be more timely in my blogging again. Over the next few posts, I want to go back to the reluctant leadership idea. In particular, what causes reluctance to step up?

I suggest there are a number of reasons. Perhaps the foremost is a fear of failure. Young people with potential for leadership need to be identified early and mentored. Part of the strength of the mentoring relationship is the commitment between mentor and mentee – a commitment that can be the difference in a young person stepping up.

They say delegation without support is abandonment. Well, it’s the same with mentoring. Even if the mentee seems ready, that commitment may still be the lifeline. Throwing a young leader into deep water before they have the tools to swim will only reinforce their deep-seated fear that they weren’t really able to do the job. When failure happens, as it certainly will to some degree, how will they handle it? Often, it sets Gen-Xers back for years and causes them to flee responsibility at least until the setting seems right to try again.

A young man knocked on my door one day. He hadn’t shown interest in the Threshing Floor when we first started it. I suspected he had leadership gifts, but he’d actually moved downward in the hierarchy at Wycliffe since I first met him. Recently, however, he had showed glimmers of interest. He came to our group with his Gen-X supervisor, and now he was at my office wanting to talk. He said he’d been talking quite a bit with his boss about leadership and she suggested he might get a lot out of The Threshing Floor. After being around other young leaders, he was so excited and wanted to soak up all he could. He unfolded the following story.

A few years before, he’d been put into a position of leadership with the promise that he would be mentored by his predecessor for two years. But within 6-9 months in the position, the mentor left him due to various reasons and eventually moved to another position. This young man quickly became overwhelmed and asked to move back to his previous role. He’d tried leadership but wasn’t prepared or supported adequately and had a bad experience. It took him years to come back around to wanting to try it again.

Shortly after our conversation, his supervisor – who was equally young but had a broad range of experience and success in various positions – was promoted. Now, in a much more supportive setting, he agreed to move back to the same position he had burned out on before. He’s doing great, and we’re seeing even greater leadership abilities emerging.

What does someone like this need? A safe, supportive environment to cultivate their leadership gifts. A setting that allows failure and provides a chance to get back up again. And a mentor committed to making sure they’re really swimming before letting go.