Category: In the Trenches

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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In the Trenches, Incoherent Ramblings, Leadership Journey

Reframing Student Leadership

Reframing Student Leadership
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I saw a youth ministry related facebook post the other day asking how the collective hive mind selects student leaders. I think this is an extremely legitimate question, but one that needs a quick reframing.

Let me start by zooming out. The bottom line when it comes to leadership development is that I am not the only person interested in developing students into growing leaders. In fact, depending on their extracurricular activities, I may be one of multiple people interested in helping them expand their leadership influence.

As we zoom in, however, we start to see a few key differences. Of all the people in a student’s life who want them to grow as a leader, I may be one of a select few who are interested in teaching servant leadership, and more specifically, servant leadership as modeled and taught by Jesus.

So, when I look at a room of students and want to select a few student leaders, my approach is a little different. I have written about two key traits for student leaders previously (you can read that here), but one of my criteria is willingness to serve. If a student is unwilling to serve, then neither of us grow from the time we spend.

I watched this play out first hand. I used to think if I saw leadership potential in a student, they would benefit from me calling it out of them. But there was a flaw in my approach. I was calling something out of a student who wasn’t willing to serve, and as a result their commitment level was abnormally low, and even started to resent me for expecting them to show up.

Now I take a different approach. Most recently, I have students fill out an application and sit down for an interview before joining the leadership team. If a student is willing to put forth the effort of filling out an application and scheduling an interview, then we have an agreement there will be a time commitment to what they’re doing.

I cannot call something out of someone who is unwilling to grow.

Guilting a student into leadership misses the point.

Only allowing the popular kids to lead misses the point.

Establishing leadership as a higher rung misses the point.

On Thursday I will continue this thought, but for today let me ask you to join me in considering this: is your approach to developing leaders around you a healthy one? Are you willing to make the changes necessary? Are you willing to keep what needs to be kept?

Watching leaders grow their leadership influence is one of the most exciting parts of what I do. But that doesn’t mean everything is a win. I have had to adapt over the years. Maybe you need to do the same thing.

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In the Trenches, Incoherent Ramblings

The Father-Leader Paradox

The Father-Leader Paradox
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I’m less than a month away from a milestone in my life: my oldest daughter is getting ready to move into the youth ministry.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about the dynamic of being a parent/youth minister, but I have been contemplating it pretty heavily over the past month or two. Here are five wishes I have for my daughter (and for any kid who joins us) as she moves into the youth ministry:

  1. I pray she finds an adult who will pour into and invest in her, that’s not me. I teach her at home. I correct her at home. I lead her at home. I try to speak life into her at home. She needs someone else to do those things at church. She needs an adult who will see her potential, and try to draw it out, working in concert with me as her father.
  2. I pray she keeps a heart willing to serve. As of right now, I don’t have to force her to do things, or at least not many things. She loves to serve. She is happy to go to the church and help with random odd jobs. I hope that never goes away.
  3. I pray she finds friends who build her up, and whom she can build up. Going to school, she may not always be surrounded by positive influences. I hope the other students in the youth ministry pour into and invest in her, and allow her to do the same, regardless of age gap.
  4. I pray she loves being involved. The combination of the three things above carries the potential for her to have a desire and passion to show up. I hope as she progresses through the ministry, that we are able to offer opportunities that keep her emotionally and mentally engaged, and that allow her to grow in her relationship with God.
  5. Finally, I pray that she will grow closer to God as a result of the time she spends in the youth ministry. After all, if I’m scheduling fun activities and not pointing kids to Christ, then I’m just an entertainer.

Now, look back over that list. There are some of those that I, as her youth minister, can influence. That’s why leadership development is so important to me. I want students aware and pouring into other students. I want adults loving on students. I want to provide opportunities to serve, and to create an atmosphere where students are not simply entertained, but challenged.

But I can’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone. Bring people into the leadership discussion in your life. Expand your influence and watch growth happen.

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In the Trenches

Know Your Fish

know your fish
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This past weekend I got to spend time with a great group of teenage guys. We built a trip for them, and it was a great experience.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to fish and shoot skeet (clay pigeons). If I were to be completely honest, we shot skeet because it’s been a while since I’ve shot and I wanted to shoot, and we fished because the boys asked to go fishing.

Now, the last paragraph reveals something about me — I’m not a fisherman. My thoughts when planning the trip didn’t go to “It would be so much fun to fish” but instead “it would be so much fun to shoot skeet.”

When it comes to fishing, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can make some guesses. I can buy some fishing supplies, mostly on clearance because I like a good deal. But the bottom line is the one time I’ve ever taken my girls fishing and tried to figure it out, we caught a turtle with a turkey hot dog. Let that sink in.

Shooting skeet, on the other hand, is more in my wheel house. I know what it takes. I know what we need. I know who to ask. I have a good idea of how to set it up, because I have done it often. I know what my goal is, and I know how to achieve it.

Here’s your leadership principle – if you don’t know your goal, you don’t know how to achieve it.

I don’t know what bait to use to catch what type of fish.

I know which gun to use to shoot skeet.

If you are working and don’t have a goal in mind, then all the effort you’re putting in is wasted energy.

Even worse, if the people you are leading don’t know what your goal should be, then all the effort you’re putting in is wasted.

A clear vision/purpose/direction/goal allows you to create shared forward movement. When you get everyone on the same page moving forward, the progress you’re able to make will be beyond what you ever imagined.

But it doesn’t happen if you don’t even know what kind of fish you’re trying to catch.

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In the Trenches

The Leadership Secret

Unfinished Puzzle
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Can I confess something? Few things frustrate me more than when someone operates with a belief that I know something I do not. 

It happens more often than I care to admit. I get into a conversation and someone has information they think is common knowledge, but they do not realize I have not been informed of the key piece of information, thus losing me before the conversation begins.

Can I confess something else? I wrestle with this in myself all the time. 

Honestly, I do. Am I holding someone else to an expectation they have no way of knowing they are being held to? Am I expecting people around me to live up to my standards because they know what my standards are, or because they should just know. I mean, really, my pet peeves are everyone else’s pet peeves, right?

I think letting ourselves fall into the trap of the leadership secret is one of the hidden roadblocks of effective leadership. 

The leadership secret bases decisions, actions, and attitudes solely on information the people around you have no way of knowing, and then expecting them to respond as if they know.

The leadership secret happens when someone, behind closed doors, behaves in a way we never expected, but in front of others never shows that side. So we begin to think less of people who respect the person, even though they would have never seen the other side.

The leadership secret happens when we know someone is struggling and watch as people mercilessly attack them for something separate, and then work ourselves up to defend them, all the while expecting everyone to know what we know, without us telling them.

I am not advocating gossip, or even being a megaphone for secrets. Instead, I am advocating taking a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask: “Do they know what I know?” In doing so, maybe we learn to deal with people individually.

There’s another side to the leadership secret, though. There are times in leadership when information needs to be communicated. This is a very delicate line to walk. I am by nature a very private person, so I tend to bristle when someone shares something about me I did not approve. But the truth of the matter is sometimes the battle we (or someone else) is fighting needs to be made known.

As a body of believers, one of our goals is to love and challenge people to grow. Sometimes, this is done by surrounding them and helping them move forward.

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