How Does a Young Leader Earn a Seat at the Table?

A common conversation with young leaders these days is often based on the topics of gaining influence and opportunity.

All young leaders want to rise in their leadership. That is natural. It’s obvious that some rise quicker than others, but it’s not always just about talent. In fact, sometimes the most gifted and competent young leaders get stuck. They want a spot at the esteemed “leadership table” where the decisions are made, but that coveted seat eludes them.

Board Room

Why do talented young leaders not advance?

It’s not only about how good you are, it’s equally about how you demonstrate your influence and express your desires. It’s about who you are and how you serve.

In smaller churches there may be only one leadership table, in larger churches there will be many… nonetheless there are a finite number of seats. But there is never a shortage of opportunities to influence others for the good of those you serve.

I Timothy 3:1 says . . . Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. (NIV)
I love how The Message says it: “If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good!

The rest of the passage, however, addresses the qualifications of the leader.

With the exception of the ability to teach, skills are not listed! None are about pure competence and talent. The qualifications address:

  • character
  • reputation
  • demeanor
  • attitude
  • emotion
  • self-leadership
  • ego
  • sincerity
  • relationships

In short, who you are affects how you serve and lead.

The real question is this. As a young leader are you willing to pay the price to qualify? If your answer is yes, are you still in if you learn that this cannot be accomplished in a short amount of time?

Advice to young leaders:

1. Focus your energy on being helpful more than being at the table.

If your desire to serve and add value is greater than to be at a particular table, your influence will rise, and in time opportunities will present themselves. This is always true. If not where you currently serve, someone somewhere will notice. There is always an opening, somewhere, for bright and capable young leaders — young leaders who are willing to pay the price and add value rather than assume a seat at the table is automatically deserved.

It’s important to remember that an official position or title is not required for significant influence. Serving brings an authority all on its own.

2. Demonstrate competence in the area you have been chosen to lead.

Excel in what you have been asked to do. Get really good at your job before you seek the next job. Learn your craft, get better, become the go-to person that everyone wants on their team. Your results should speak for themselves so loudly that you never have to call someone’s attention to how hard you work. Let’s be candid, no one cares how hard anyone works.

It’s better to find a good coach in a healthy environment than to find a top job with a seat at the big table. A good coach will help you see things from a long-haul perspective. He or she will bring wisdom that will offer long term success over winning a quick reward.

3. Wait for an invitation rather than push your way in.

If you are a sharp young leader with aspirations of increasing influence and making a big difference, it’s hard to wait. I truly understand. But in order to become good at your job, it’s also important to enjoy your job. I’ve never met anyone who was really good, with a seat of influence somewhere in the organization, who dislikes their job. (Or is indifferent about their job.)

Enjoying your job helps you wait for the invitation.

Waiting for an invitation requires patience and maturity, but it also brings joy. In the end, you get what you dreamed about, without pushing your way in.

Knowing your true gifts and talents takes time. Try different things, practice different skills. You short-circuit your own future when you focus on rising and gaining a seat at the table, over taking the time to learn where God has gifted you and what He wants you to do.

15 thoughts on “How Does a Young Leader Earn a Seat at the Table?”

  1. These points are so great! I love how you said be the expert and the go to person about the job you’ve been given. As a young leader, I always want to be good at everyone else’s job as well. What a great reminder!

  2. Another point to consider is that if there are a certain number of seats, someone must have made one available. In far too many cases, once a seat is obtained, it’s harder to let go and let someone else have it. But that’s probably a whole different topic.

    1. That is so true Ken!! It’s much harder to let go and let someone else take your chair. The irony is that many leaders think when they give up their chair, they are “out” when in fact they often go up! But if you wait to long, you do go out.

      1. In the volunteer arena, I want to raise up another to take my place behind a console, but honestly I struggle with “I really do like being there every week” (it’s about me) vs “serve the Lord”, “raise up others”, etc.

        1. Yup, we love our jobs… But you don’t have to give up your seat every week when you become a coach to a young apprentice. They still need you there to help coach them… We need you there! By giving up a seat in order to train and raise up others, you become the coach, or in your case, player coach because your skills are greatly needed.

  3. Dan,
    I have to chime in as well – I have loved following your writings and this post was such a great reminder for me! Competence, character, and patience – what great things to strive for. What I love about this is that if you can truly champion those three things, it won’t have mattered if you gained a seat at the table – the person you have become will by default be making a Kingdom-impact, and that is greater than any seat. Humbling thoughts.
    I hope you and Patti are doing great!

    1. Hi Kayla! You have such great wisdom for a young leader! And are so right the person you become trumps all in the eyes of God! Good to hear from you and Patti and I are doing great… Our daughter Mackenzie is getting married this weekend!

      1. Wow! I can’t believe the wedding is already here. I’m so excited for all of you – such a sweet time. Glad to hear you’re all doing great – and a huge congratulations from Florida to Jacob and Mackenzie!

  4. Cami Lebovitz

    Great thoughts and so true! I’ve learned position can come in a lot of ways, and even a title doesn’t always mean great influence. Influence comes from being a good 360 Degree Leader I think and rises when leading up is done with excellence.

    God has taught me a lot in the last year about being a faithful servant and stewarding well the influence he has given me. Over and over He honors obedience and fights on my behalf. When I honor Him, honor others, and get good at my craft, He opens doors I never imagined. He’s a good Father!

    Thank you for writing these thoughts, Dan.

  5. I’m not sure how much I agree with this article. There are some very good
    points about leadership and qualities of leadership in its advise but I
    feel using the word “Most” below is an extremely offensive
    generalization about young people.

    The real question is this: Is the young leader willing to pay the price to
    qualify? Most say yes, until they realize it can’t be done in a short
    amount of time.

    The article leads in with “In fact, sometimes the most gifted and competent young leaders get stuck. They
    want a spot at the esteemed “leadership table”” It is true that any
    generation can have moments of frustration, a need for growth, or just
    an outright temptation for Leadership power. However I would argue many
    young emerging leaders are less concerned with being at the table and
    more concerned about those unwilling to leave it.

  6. Dan – as a senior leader, how would handle a situation where someone you thought was ready for a coveted seat at the table has proven otherwise over time? What sorts of things would suggest to you that it’s now time to rescind that opportunity?

    1. Edrin, I think you have to begin by asking yourself a few questions. 1. Were the expectations made clear? 2. Was adequate training (development) provided? 3. Was he set up to “win”? Before you can know if it’s time to rescind that opportunity you have to be able to say yes to those three questions. Let’s say the answer is yes. The next step is to ask if it’s a question of attitude? If its a bad attitude, there is not much grace there. Probably time to rescind if immediate change is not taking place. If it’s competence, then ask two questions. Is he growing / making some progress? If yes, perhaps grant more time. If you now believe he simply is not ready, or cannot be ready anytime soon, then it’s time to make a change from “the big leagues” and reset at AAA level, in hopes of once again coming up to the “Bigs.” Dan

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