Be sure to check the previous posts in this series on situational leadership get the full picture of what it’s all about and how you can apply it in youth ministry. Today we’ll be discussing a second category of followers: those who are committed, but don’t have the skills (high commitment, low competence). In that category, it’s all about coaching.

If you have a follower (it can be volunteer or a student) who is motivated and enthusiastic to do something, but lacks the skills, you’ll need to coach this person or arrange for someone else to do that. There are many different definitions on what coaching is exactly and how it should be done. I could write many blog posts on coaching (which I won’t, but one or two may not be a bad idea!), but for now what’s important is this: coaching is about helping someone to achieve certain goals, to assist them in realizing their potential.

Equally important is what coaching is not: it’s not ‘just’ telling someone exactly what they should do (the directive style) or doing it for them, for they’ll get unmotivated that way. It’s also important to make sure you don’t give followers in this category too much responsibility, for they will drown. They’ll accept it maybe, because they’re enthusiastic and they want to help, but if they lack the skills they will go under, and that could really damage them. Before you transfer responsibility, make sure the follower is indeed capable of handling this! That’s why according to the theory of situational leadership, your style still has to be task-oriented, as well as relationship-oriented.

Coaching requires a time investment from you as a leader, because you will have to take the time to develop a relationship with the follower and determine what skills he needs to take the next step. So how to do this? Follow these steps:

1. Build a relationship

Spend some time to get to know the follower you’re going to work with. Try and get a feel for his or her character. I often ask people to come over for dinner, so we can chat in a more relaxed atmosphere. I just ask them tons of questions, like how they got to know Christ, what they do for a living, if they have hobbies, etc. By the end of the evening I’ll usually have a feel for the person and a basic knowledge of where they’re coming from and what they’re like.

2. Match follower and task

I’m a big believer in putting people to work in a spot that matches with their passion, their gifts and their natural talents. All the coaching in the world can’t make someone right for a task that doesn’t match his gifts and talents. That’s another reason why it’s important to get to know someone a bit so you can talk about these things and try and find a good task. I’ve seen the results of mismatches unfortunately, but I’ve also witnessed wonderful examples where we got it right and people just thrived in their task. There are several tools you can use here, like a gift assessment of some sort or a series of short ‘internships’ where someone tries different things to find one that clicks. The last way often works well with teens and students. Take the time to get it right, it’s worth your effort to get an enthusiastic volunteer or student in the right place!

3. Identify the necessary skills

What skills are necessary to do the task right? What is the follower already capable of and what does he or she need to learn? Try to identify that together as concrete as possible. It could be that a volunteer needs to learn how to lead a small group, it could be that he needs practice in presentation skills, it could be the art of asking the right questions or how to maintain some sort of discipline in the group. Sometimes you can identify these needs up front, but often they’ll become clear once someone has started a task. That’s why supervision and support is so important in the first year. Someone may seem fairly self confident, but as a leader it’s your job to make sure that that is justified.

4. Make a plan

If you know what skills are lacking, come up with a plan together how to resolve this. Is there a book he can read (which you can discuss together later), is there a training available, is there someone who has skills in this area who could train and mentor him? There are a lot of possibilities, just remember that you don’t necessarily have to do it yourself. But if you involve others, be very clear about where the responsibility for the coaching lies. Do they take over from you or are they only responsible for a subpart and are you still ultimately responsible? Make this clear as to avoid confusion.

5. Evaluate the plan

If you remain responsible for the coaching, set regular dates with the follower to discuss progress. Be sure to invest in the relationship as well as in the skills areas. Don’t be afraid to suggest another task if you feel that there isn’t a good match after all.

If you follow this plan successfully, you will lead your follower from the category of willing but unable into willing and able, the best category there is!

A lot of leaders find coaching hard, mainly because it’s so time consuming. What are your experiences?