Leadership Crisis

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This article is a summary of a PhD dissertation: "Formative Educational Experiences of Experientially-Qualified Leaders", copyright 1999 by Thomas A. Bloomer. Permission has been given to include this summary in YWAM's knowledgebase by the author.

A Crisis of Leadership --- Tom Bloomer

A crisis of leadership exists in the world. Many agree on the need for better leaders, and even on what their qualities should be. A recent development seen in government, the Church, and especially in business, is that leadership no longer rests on formal qualifications, such as diplomas or academic degrees. Practitioners have come to agree with the theorists, that leadership development is not helped by formal academic study. What counts is results, the bottom line, and people everywhere want leaders who can produce.

But the question then becomes, how are these leaders developed? If formal education doesn't really help, what does? Research has not shown any direct links in leadership with heredity, social class, or specific personality traits.

Since YWAM was one of the first missions which has no education requirement for its leaders, YWAM's leaders are a good group to study to answer the question, "How do people who are not educated for leadership come to be leaders?" YWAM has been incredibly innovative over its past 40 years, and another question was, do YWAM's leadership development practices favour innovation?

All 35 members of YWAM's Global Leadership Team (GLT) were interviewed in August-September 1998 using an ethnographic research strategy, and the answers were systematically analyzed and summarized.

When asked how they themselves became leaders, almost all said that they became leaders by being put into leadership. They also said that they were trusted, believed in, encouraged, and released. Other important factors mentioned were the calling and enabling of God, and role models.

Then other factors were asked about. When prompted, many agreed that suffering experiences, family, and YWAM community were important to their leadership preparation. Surprisingly unimportant to most were spouses, local church experiences, and mentors. Leadership theory was confirmed here: formal education had almost nothing to do with YWAM leaders becoming leaders.

When asked how they work now with younger leaders, a variety of different strategies were noted, varying with the gifting and personality of each one. Most of these strategies were informal, and they could have quite a bit of potential if followed up, written down, and multiplied throughout the mission. But systematizing and intentionally multiplying these experientially-based lessons does not seem to be one of the strengths of this kind of leader. The answers given lined up well with the factors that favour innovation in organizations: relationships, trust, freedom of action, strong leadership that is not authoritarian, and a high tolerance of risk.

And another question revealed that most of the GLT were visionary leaders focussed on releasing young leaders.

However, less than half said that they consciously looked for ways to give leadership to young leaders, even though that was how they were prepared. Most did say that they consciously encouraged young leaders whenever they could. But overall, YWAM leaders do not seem to have fully grasped the value of the way they themselves were released.


Although the mission's values seem to have been impacted by the experiences of the leadership, and some of its policies as well (such as the DTS requirement and structure), its practices have not always been shaped as much by these formational experiences. When asked specifically, most GLT members said that the kind of leadership preparation experiences they had had were not always available to others in the mission, and also that it was harder to become a leader in YWAM now than it was when they first came in.

This statement by one senior GLT member was chilling: "If you go to some YWAM bases, you will never become a leader." Although a minority of the GLT were positive about trends in YWAM that still release young leaders, most recognized that every symptom of an aging organization that stifles creativity can be found in YWAM: departmentalization, hierarchical structures, unclear or slow decision processes, turf-conscious leaders, increasing relationship problems marked by backbiting and suspicion of others, refusal to accept responsibility, greater divisions between leaders and staff and staff and students, increasing distance between policies and values and actual practice, conflict suppression, risk-taking either avoided or exaggerated, excess personnel in some places and a cruel lack in others, tolerance of incompetence, unclear goals, over control, over centralisation, resistance to accountability, low motivation, personal stagnation, and obsolescence of products and processes.

Paul McKaughan, head of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in the USA; had this compliment, and question, for YWAM: "It is probably the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement today... So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It is this that makes YWAM one of...the most influential movement in our Christian world today. The question is, can they sustain it in the 21st century?" And the answer to that sobering question, from the mouths of YWAM's Global Leadership Team, is "No." Unless changes are made, the processes already at work in our mission will lead us irresistibly toward increasing fragmentation, stagnation, and ineffectiveness.

If radical changes are made, we could still fulfil our potential of becoming a truly transformational global mission.