Search the site

Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Emerging Leaders & Established Leaders: What’s the Difference?

So which are you? We hear these terms all the time—emerging leaders and established leaders. When do you stop being an “emerging leader”? Is it at a certain age? Is it when you stop growing?


photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

The truth is—both established and emerging leaders should be learning and growing. Both should be adaptive to change and hungry to serve the needs around them. The difference is not about age, or gifts or vision. It’s something else. I recently put my finger on what I think differentiates young leaders from those of us who probably shouldn’t call ourselves “emerging” anymore. (If we haven’t “emerged” already…it’s a bit late to do it now.)

Three thousand years ago, a song was written by the sons of Korah, in the nation of Israel. The lyrics made it into the book of Psalms. They go like this:

“Walk about Zion, and go around her; count her towers; consider her ramparts; go through her palaces—that you may tell it to the next generation.”    (Ps. 48:12-13)

The songwriters encourage their readers to examine the great accomplishments that have taken place in their land. They’re to pause, observe and reflect. Then, in the final phrase above, we find out why: that you may tell it to the next generation.

The focus of established leaders should be to act on behalf of the younger generation that follows. Our words, actions and attitudes are models to be emulated. In fact, we should be constantly mindful of the example we set for them. By the time we are “established leaders” our life is about preparing those who come behind us. It is no longer about our own success, profit margins, victories, or ego. It is all about getting the next batch ready.

The difference between the two generations? Emerging leaders are just that. They’re still surfacing—concerned about their own success and reputation. Established leaders are marked by the fact that their life is about someone else’s. The first generation is about practicing. The second is about preparing.

Evaluate your life and leadership. Are you living to model the way for students? Do you take an emerging leader with you wherever you go, so they can watch? Are you aware of the blueprints you leave for them to see and emulate? Do you help them interpret what’s happened so they can make sense of it all? Or, is your life still about getting ahead and receiving what you deserve?

Emerging leader or established leader? So…which are you?


  1. Joseph Lalonde on October 22, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I think I’m stuck somewhere in between. It’s that odd place where I know it’s not about me and my success. It’s about lifting others up and into their greatness. Yet there’s times I look and long to be considered successful.

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for the honesty, Joe. I believe that tension will always be there to some degree. Keep pouring into others and success will come.

      • Joseph Lalonde on October 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

        Thanks Tim. I’ll keep pouring in.

        BTW, how’d you enjoy the Catalyst conference this year? Meant to stop by your booth but didn’t get the chance.

        • Tim Elmore on October 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

          Catalyst was great as always! Be sure to stop by the Growing Leaders booth next time.

Leave a Comment

Emerging Leaders & Established Leaders: What’s the Difference?