Big Picture, In the Trenches, Incoherent Ramblings

The Practice Field

The Practice Field
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Football. I grew up in a time before turf fields were readily accessible to small high schools. That meant two things: 1) our main field was grass and had to be watered to be maintained; and 2) we had a practice field.

Now, our practice field was slightly more than dirt. We would utilize every spare patch of grass for tackling drills, just so we didn’t get unnecessarily scraped and cut on the dirt.

Now, schools have turf fields and I regularly see high school teams practicing their game field, which makes perfect sense.

But I realized something yesterday. There’s a disparity between practice and performance. Growing up, I think people expected we had spent time practicing during the week, but the crowd showed up for the performance.

If you do the math, we spent significantly more time on the run down practice field than we did on the lush game field. Why? Because our development in practice meant success in the game.

Let me say that again: Our development in practice meant success in the game.

The same is true of leadership. The amount of time I spend preparing myself to lead through reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, and seeking to learn from other leaders helps me develop as a leader. My development outside of leadership situations means success in leadership situations.

The same is true with student leaders. Throwing someone into a leadership situation is a tried and tested way to grow their leadership, but if we want their leadership to multiply, it happens away from the situation as we either prepare them beforehand, evaluate afterwards, or some combination of both. Put another way, their development in practice means success in the game.

How are you developing yourself? What are you doing to develop your leadership understanding? Have you built leadership development into your rhythm?

What about those of us who lead students? Are we preparing them for leadership? Are we helping them grow by being intentional away from the opportunities?

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Incoherent Ramblings

Act Now or Wait?

stop and go
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I’m a terrible bargain hunter. What I mean is, if I find a bargain, regardless of a need, I try to convince myself (and my finance department) of my need for it. In those moments, I tend to live with an incredible sense of urgency, hoping to never miss the opportunity.

The rest of the time, however, I tend to let things run their course, rarely getting in a hurry. I live by a pan mentality–It’ll all pan out eventually.

The balance between action and patience is one of the most challenging parts of leadership for me. Over time I have seen some problems resolve themselves naturally, usually problems in my realm of influence.

But when it’s a problem in another leader’s realm of influence, their patience and waiting often drives me crazy. Oh, the hypocrisy.

There’s obviously a line between waiting and action, and the *blessing of leadership is learning to walk the tight rope. Act too soon or too often, and you become Chicken Little declaring a falling sky at every turn. Wait too long, and you’re the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg.

Great leaders know when to act. Great leaders also know when to hesitate. After all, if the answer was to always do one or the other, everyone could master it. There would be no intuition, no mistakes, no nuance.

If you’re like me, you lean to one side over the other. Which side is it? Do you tend to act or tend to wait?

Now, if your tendency is action, is there a situation around you demanding waiting to act?

If your tendency is waiting, what situation around you requires action?

Respond appropriately today and allow your leadership influence to grow!

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Incoherent Ramblings

2 Steps to Developing Student Leaders

Play it Again
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Do you ever hear something and find it popping back into your mind from time to time? Like a song that gets stuck in a loop in your head, but a sentence.

I’m guessing we all do this with different things and to varying degrees. A criticism, a compliment (generally less often), or a generic statement all contain the ability to hang around like a nagging cough. Sometimes, though, the thought provides opportunity for growth.

This past summer, as I was leading a group of student leaders at camp, one of them made a statement that has been bouncing around in my head for months. As we were talking about their own leadership growth, they said “You know, I’ve always been told I had leadership potential, but no one ever showed me how to leverage it.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

This sentence has been on repeat in my head ever since, and not just in a leadership sense. This student had been told what for years, but never how.

Does that give you pause? I know I’ve had the benefit of pondering it for a couple months, but do you see the truth in the statement.

It is so easy for us (yes, I fall into this too) to simply acknowledge a gift someone has. In fact, when it comes to leadership, that’s one of the things I value the most–I want to let a student know I see something in them. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it can make them feel good about themselves for a moment.

But do we show students how to lead? The reality is equipping a student (or anyone) to lead is risky. What if they don’t buy into what we’re teaching? What if they don’t achieve what we see as their potential? What if I don’t really know what I’m doing, and they realize my inadequacy?

The struggle is real. Should I put a hashtag with that? That would up my street cred, right?

#thestruggleisreal

So, how do start to shift from merely acknowledging a gift a student has, to equipping them to take the necessary steps? Here are two steps I’d suggest:

  1. Encourage them to start seeking opportunities to leverage their influence. I do this through teaching the three questions. If a student will begin looking for ways to make a difference and people to invite to help them do so, then the momentum starts to pick up. A student who has been told time and again the what but never the how will jump at the opportunity to act on what others have seen.
  2. Give them opportunities to leverage their influence. I don’t have an unlimited supply of resources, but I can provide opportunities. It may come as the planning of an event, or me suggesting a name of someone they can influence. At camp, it’s high-fiving students as they enter a program, encouraging them to invest relationally in their peers, and leading rec. The possibilities are endless, and the response will vary.

So, think of your circle of influence. Is there someone in your life to whom you have said “you have leadership potential” and walked away? Is there someone who needs you to step in and say, let me show you how to lead? Are you willing to do that? What are you waiting for?

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In the Trenches

The Pendulum Swing

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I think there are two types of people in the world: those who have a plan before starting something, and those who build the plan as they go along.

Maybe it’s more of a pendulum arc, where the you are somewhere on the swing of the pendulum, but it’s possible to display a little bit of both.

When I was in my early 20s, I valued my ability to shoot from the hip. As I’ve gotten older, I value preparation and forethought, but I still land on the “let’s throw this up in the air and see where it lands” side of the arc.

Starting something new can be challenging. For me, someone who values a little chaos, it’s hard to anticipate the speed-bumps encountered by those we lead. That’s what happened this past week.

We are in the building phase of a student worship team at my church, and had our first practice on Sunday. My goal going in to practice was to try to discern, in the midst of the chaos, where we were as a group. I walked away encouraged and ready to move forward.

Then I got the text. One of the students was overwhelmed in the moment, created a not-based-on-reality scenario in their head, and was ready to step down.

At the core, it was my fault. I did not prepare them fully for what I was looking for in practice, once again letting key information get trapped in my head (click here to read a previous post about this). The result: frustration, fear, worry, and ultimately feelings of inadequacy.

Would this student have felt these things regardless? Possibly. But did I do everything I could have done to help them prepare? No.

So maybe my pendulum hasn’t reached where it needs to reach.

I truly believe there’s no perfect balance in this. I think we have things that make us strong. But, I do believe if we allow ourselves to completely neglect one side, we start to alienate a lot of people along the way, and our influence diminishes. Ultimately, if we only embrace our strength, then we only lead people who operate like us, thus diminishing our leadership capability.

What about you? Where do you land on the arc? Do you swing to the side of “everything needs a plan and a purpose”? Or do you swing to “step first, look second”? How has that benefited you in the past month? How has it hurt you? What change do you need to make this week?

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Check it Out

Check It Out: The First Two Steps

First 2 steps
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There are a few authors on leadership, and especially student leadership, that generally fall into the category of “must read” for me. One of those is Tim Elmore.

Imagine my glee this morning when, as I was perusing my emails, I decided to click on a blog post of his titled “The First Two Steps in a Student’s Leadership Journey.” I clicked through and loved every word of what I read.

In this post, he tells the story of Nathan Patterson, a software salesman in Colorado who threw 96mph in a pitching booth at Coors Field. His video went viral, and the Oakland A’s signed him to a contract. It’s an incredible story, but Elmore is able to highlight a couple key lessons for student leadership.

I’ll share one of my favorite lines from the article, but you’ll want to make sure to click over and read the entire post.

When talking about the effort that goes in behind the scenes, Elmore says, “Most of the ingredients that make our dreams come true are not caught on video.” I think the truth in this statement is deeply profound, specifically the effort we put forth so often is not what gets noticed–its the results of our efforts that get noticed.

So, if you work with students, or if you’re an adult with a dream, go check out the post for some great thoughts and motivation to keep moving forward!

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