Category: In the Trenches

Leaders Show Up

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If you’ve worked with students for very long (or people in general), I’m guessing the following conversation rings some bells:

Student: I want to step up and be more of a leader.

Me: That’s great! Here are some things to keep in mind.

Student: ***Misses the next month***

Me: …

A few years back I had a leadership team of students who had applied and gone on the leadership trip. Part of the application was agreeing to come to monthly meetings, but as the year waned on, our attendance started dropping, and not only to the monthly leadership meetings.

Now, I have a constant internal struggle about attendance expectations. I have come to the conclusion that I’m a rarity when it comes to church attendance. When I was growing up, I was at the church as much as possible. I didn’t have a bad home life (the opposite, actually), but I loved being together with other believers. For most of my life, I’ve been the kid (and now the guy) who hangs around the church building until almost everyone else has gone.

But most people aren’t wired that way, at least not with church attendance.

Sports, yes. Civic organizations, maybe. Weekly meals with groups of friends, yes. But church, for some reason that’s foreign to me, elicits a lower attendance commitment. (At this point, I need to clarify I’m not equating spiritual maturity to church attendance. I do, however, think our commitment to the body of Christ increases as Christ becomes a greater priority in our life.)

I have wrestled with the disparity between my commitment of attendance and others’ commitment for years. Over time, I realize it’s not fair to expect everyone to be as consistent to church attendance as I am (and was prior to being on staff). I’m wired differently, and that probably plays into why I do what I do.

As I began thinking about how to communicate to students interested in identifying as leaders the importance of attending, I landed on a simple phrase.

Leaders show up.

Simple, right? If leadership at it’s very core is influence, it is extremely difficult to influence a room you’re not physically in, especially early on.

If leadership influence grows through relationship, it’s even more difficult to build relationships with people you’re never around.

If we, as leaders, cannot commit to making our presence a priority, then how can we call ourselves leaders?

The same is true for me. If I expect to become an influencer in the lives of the people to whom I minister, I have to show up. The room should be better because I’m there. If it’s better when I’m not there, then it’s time for a reality check on my part.

Students need to hear this. Adults need to hear this. We need to hear this. Leaders show up. Your presence makes a difference, and it should be a positive difference.

Go be present today.

Surround Yourself

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I find myself regularly wrestling with how much or how little I am like everyone else. I don’t think I’m special (although my daughters did buy me a best dad ever trophy this year). But, I do think I have a different approach to a lot of things.

For instance, I network differently. I can make surface connections with a lot of people, but I thrive when I’m able to question everything deeply with one or two people. I enjoy conferences, but the thing I enjoy most is the conversations in the hallways and over meals.

Playing to my strength, I tend to surround myself with people who can do the same thing. If I can find a way to foster those conversations, then I make a point to pursue the opportunities. Before moving, that looked like a 90 minute drive for what I lovingly termed a “brain trust”. My favorite conference ever was with 5 people around a table.

Who do you surround yourself with? Are you seeking out people who make you better? How are you seeking them out? Do you need to make a change on that front?

Leadership Mistakes: Moving Too Slow

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I had a nickname in high school: Slow Motion. Care to guess where it came from? Well, it wasn’t my speed. It was my lack of it.

I’m a big guy. Back then, I was just a tall guy, but I’ve never been quick. As a result, my lack of speed constantly haunts me. Okay, that may be a little extreme. But you get the idea.

In leadership, however, one of the mistakes we are often tempted to make is moving too slow. This happens for two main reasons:

  1. Fear – We worry about dealing with the fallout from the change. If we upset the apple cart, how can we be certain the end result is worth the struggle in the middle? Often times this is the equivalent of saying “I don’t want to diet because I’d have to worry about being too skinny.” If the change needs to be made, don’t let fear of the outcome hold you back.
  2. Ease – It’s actually easy to not upset the apple cart. It’s easy to keep the status quo, even if the needed change would mean higher productivity in the end!

But, what are the benefits of not allowing fear and ease to cause us to move too slow? Simple: progress.

When we learn to fight against the urge to move too slow, then we start to see progress. We are able to develop more people. We are able to move more people forward. We are able to stand up to our fear and apprehension because we have experienced the other side.

Naturally, there’s a balance between moving too fast and moving too slow. So ask yourself two question: 1) which side do I lean towards? and 2) Does it seem to work to my benefit?

If your answer to the second question is no, then guess what? You need to start trying to move the other way. If you’re naturally a “wait and see” leader and find yourself constantly regretting your patience, then start moving toward action. The same is true if you’re an action oriented person who regularly leaves a trail of bodies in your wake.

There’s always room to grow, but the question always comes down to: are you willing to evaluate in order to grow?

Leadership Mistakes: Moving Too Fast

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The first football game I ever played was in 7th grade. We were a small school, so our junior high only had one team, and I played the majority of the game. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the game, but there is one thing I think I will likely never forget.

Our running back broke for a big run and was running down the sideline. He had already passed all the defenders and was home free to score a touchdown. Until something went wrong. As he was running, the ball popped up out of his arms.

To this day, I still have no idea how it happened. It was all so graceful–his run, his speed, the ball effortless popping up as my friend continued running. I’m sure there were some issues with how he was running or holding the ball, or both. But all I knew was he fumbled, and it was funny.

I am now just over six months into a new position in a new ministry, and there are some things I’m starting to realize about my own leadership. Today, the first one: moving too fast.

Timing is delicate. Waiting for the right time requires experience and intuition, neither of which come effortlessly. Even someone with intuition learns to trust it over time.

There has been one element of the ministry where I am where I feel like I was running down the sideline and the ball popped up. We were moving along, and I thought I could see the straight path to where we would end up, only to realize the progress may not be as fast as I had hoped.

But that’s okay, because that means we get to re-evaluate and re-calibrate. So often, the element that keeps us from moving at the speed we think we should move is exactly what needs attention in the moment. Address the need, move forward.

Find the balance between stalling and addressing the need, though. Occasionally, some people and elements will resist movement and, dare I say, need to be dragged along. But more often than not, taking a moment to address the feelings in the room and evaluate the direction provides a solid way to continue moving forward.

What situation do you find yourself facing today? Are you possibly moving too fast, in need of a moment to stop and pick up the ball before you move further along? Are you willing to do that? Leaders have to be mindful of the people they are leading and how to help them move forward.

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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