Incoherent Ramblings

2 Steps to Developing Student Leaders

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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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