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Learn the 5 "I's" of Leadership Development: Identify, Invite, Inform, Involve, Inquire

Leadership development in our congregations should be an extension of faith development. But our congregational leaders need more than technical training, they need a combination of skills and qualities to enable them to be both skillful and faithful. This nuanced difference in the meanings of the words “training” or even “development” could be described as “leadership formation.”

Leadership Development Teams, Not Just "Nominating Committees"

(Note: Detailed information is available in the Central East Regional Group's (CERG's) on-demand course Passing the Torch (free registration required): Creating a Leadership Development Program in Your Congregation.)

Many of the congregations who approach us about leadership development are under stress. They might have a nominating committee that is unable to fill all of the slots before the congregational annual meeting, They may have experienced a crisis because they had leaders in important roles who were not equipped to serve in that capacity during a time of conflict or change. They may have a leadership group that is burned out but no one else is ready to step in. 

Sustainable leadership development cannot be reactive to these kinds of crises. Leadership Development should be an ongoing process in your congregation that includes the following practices,

Identify: Who is Called to be a Leader?

Your Leadership Development Team should have several practices and strategies that enable them to identify potential leaders, especially from groups that may be at the margins (young adults, people of color). Here are a few suggestions:

  • Attend newcomer classes.
  • Talk to small group ministry leaders.
  • Hold a ministry fair in the congregation. Enable people to learn more about ways to serve in a fun and festive atmosphere. This provides a transparent, low-risk way for people to explore service.
  • Ask the "connectors" in the congregation to act as scouts for potential leaders.

Invite: Help Potential Leaders Discern Their Gifts

  • Schedule one-on-ones with members of the congregation to ask them about their passions and how they might be engaged with the mission and vision of the congregation.
  • Schedule leadership discovery events.
  • Encourage each leader and potential leaders to develop a personal leadership inventory and learning/serving plan.
  • Create leadership study groups where members create relationships of accountability around their learning and serving.

Inform: Help Equip Your Leaders with Training and Formation Opportunities

  • Using the “12-Part Foundation of Faithful Leadership Formation” model described below, assist your leaders and potential leaders in developing their own learning plan.
  • Use resources such as the Harvest the Power curriculum, webinars, district and regional trainings, and experienced leaders in your own congregation to provide learning opportunities.

Involve: Help Leaders Find a Way to Serve the Ministry that Best Matches Their Gifts and Calling

  • Connect the volunteer role to the ministry goals or vision.
  • Share why you are inviting this particular person.
  • Accurately describe the position.

Inquire: Create a Culture of Creativity

  • Use an ongoing, appreciative assessment tool (in partnership with your Committee on Shared Ministry, if you have one) to help leaders see how well they are serving the ministries and mission of the congregation.
  • Use mistakes as an opportunity for learning, not blaming.
  • Make space for “volunteer sabbaticals.”

12-Part Foundation of Faithful Leadership Formation

In designing programming to meet the needs of today’s congregational leaders, we offer a model that identifies twelve areas where leaders and potential leaders might learn and grow. (See a visual model.) The leadership development resources on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website are organized using this model.

Each of the twelve areas fall into one of three categories.


Sensibilities are lenses that our leaders can develop in order to get a better "balcony view" of the situations in which they are leading and the people that they are working with. Part of developing these sensibilities is knowing that it is an ongoing process of learning, reflecting and shifting awareness. We don't think of sensibilities as competencies because these are areas where leaders will always have blind spots and deeply ingrained assumptions that keep them from seeing the whole picture by themselves.

  1. Contextual Sensibility: Developing an understanding of changes in society and how those changes impact our churches.
  2. Multicultural Sensibility: Understanding how race and privilege operate in our lives and institutions and actively working to dismantle racism. 
  3. Generational Sensibility: Understanding that along with life-stage differences, there are differences in generations based on the societal shifts they experience during their different life stages.
  4. Systems Sensibility: The ability to understand that a change in one part can have an effect on the other parts, even if we can’t see direct causation. 


Skills are competencies that can be developed through a combination of study and practice. These can be learned through reading, workshops, classes, webinars and "on the job."

  1. Skills to Grow Other Leaders: A generosity of spirit and collegiality in identifying, mentoring, training and supporting other and potential leaders.
  2. Change and Conflict Skills: Understanding the dynamics of change, identifying adaptive challenges and being able to engage in strategies and creative conflict.
  3. Communications Skills: Understanding different styles of giving and receiving information and being able to communicate across those styles.
  4. Management Skills: Basic skills to keep the congregation running smoothly, effectively and with fiscal responsibility.


Because we are looking at Leadership Development as a kind of faith formation, we want each leader to develop self-awareness and find ways to cultivate and improve their full, authentic selves, especially in ways that make them better leaders.

  1. Embodying UU “DNA”: Developing and embodying faithfulness to core UU values and theology. Knowing UU history and traditions.
  2. Mission-Focused: Having a clear sense of the mission of the congregation and keeping the congregation focused on that mission.
  3. Spiritually Grounded: A clear, positive understanding and personal practice of one’s own faith in our liberal religious tradition.
  4. Emotional Intelligence: Knowing and taking responsibility for one’s own functioning in the system. Being aware of what one’s triggers are.


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