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?
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:
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?
Hello, my name is Wes, and I wear corrective lenses.
One of the most disheartening things when it comes to my vision weakness is watching as people with perfect eyesight (let’s call them “snobs”) try on my glasses and inevitably say “wow, you’re blind!”
I was told a while back that my astigmatism combined with my strong prescription meant contacts were not an option. Thankfully, there have been some advancements, and as of last week I have a pair of contacts. But the process was not a simple one.
My eye doctor told me we basically had two options. He could modify my prescription just a little bit and try a cheaper route, or they could custom order me a pair that should work great. I opted for the cheaper route to start, and the result was lacking.
When I tried on the first pair, I slowly began to realize something. I could not focus out of my right eye. As I looked at the eye chart, I saw three outlines of each letter, regardless of the size. It was actually quite fascinating. I think I may have been able to see more clearly out of my uncorrected eye! So, we decided to try a different route.
Leadership is very similar. Sometimes you have to try something, only to realize the lens through which you’re looking only clouds the issues more.
I use the language of looking through situations with a leadership lens very often. I think so many times the issues we face and the struggles we encounter happen because we have the wrong lens in front of our eyes.
When we get the right leadership lens, we begin to see:
A challenge is an opportunity.
A mistake is a lesson learned.
A difficult person actually brings a lot to the table.
A subtraction is sometimes an addition, or vice versa.
How do you adjust your lenses? Read some leadership books (I don’t know how I made it in ministry almost 16 years before actually reading this one!). Find some leadership podcasts to listen to. Subscribe to Audible and start listening to audiobooks. Check with your local library to see if you have access to check out ebooks or audiobooks at no charge to you. Read leadership blogs (like 3QL or Carey Nieuwhof).
Whatever you do, be intentional about it. Growth rarely happens on accident. I never wake up with glasses on my head or contacts in my eye. I have to make the decision that I want to see clearly today. Do the same for your leadership.
I generally rival elephants when it comes to my memory. Is that right? Do elephants have an incredible capability for memory? Okay, well, honestly, I generally forget most things. But there’s one Sunday in high school I still remember.
I went to a small church in a small town. The Sunday routine was well within my muscle memory, but this Sunday was different. There was a different spirit in the room. The music was great. The sermon was on point. I walked away truly refreshed, more so than usual.
I remember making a comment about it to my prayer grandmother, and her reply has still stuck with me: “It’s because (former missionary) was here. She’s an incredible prayer warrior.”
Think about that for a moment. This woman was such a prayer warrior that her being in the room meant she was actively inviting God to move, and He did. I still cannot fully fathom the weight of that concept.
But here’s what I know: I want to be that way. I want my presence in a room to be so influential that someone walks away having noticed a difference.
I don’t want to get into a spiritual diatribe at this point, but stick with me for a moment. I want my spiritual life to be so connected to God that people are drawn closer to Him because I’m around. I want to be the light of the world in such a way that darkness flees when I am nearby.
And I want the same to be true of leadership. I want to be such a servant leader that any room I walk into is better served because I’m there. I want any organization where I contribute to be stronger because of my involvement.
I want to make the room better.
But this doesn’t happen by accident. Intentionality is key. The choices I make determine the direction I move. The choices I don’t make determine the direction I can’t move.
I want students to practice the same concept (I mentioned this earlier this week). If I can teach a student to contribute and to equip others to do the same, then the ripple effects begin.
One way I do this is through teaching the three questions. As I begin to help students see the opportunities around them to not only step up, but to invite others to do the same, then growth begins to multiply.
So, into what rooms are you walking today? How can you make them better because of your presence? Are you willing to take the necessary steps to grow your leadership influence?
My oldest daughter turns 12 tomorrow. When she was younger, she had imaginary friends. Each friend had a name, none of which I can remember. But the name made them personal.
Hang with me for a minute. If you have children, or have ever been one, then you know the power that comes from giving something a name.
We name our stuffed animals. We name our cars (at my former church, “Bertha” was our temperamental van). We name our guitars. Well, you may not have guitars, but I name my guitars and those of other people (shout out to Tay Tay).
There’s an affection that comes from naming them. There’s a sense of pride and ownership. There’s a sense of power.
But at the end of the day, the stuffed animal is a stuffed animal. The guitar is a guitar. The car is a car. The name does nothing to change the fundamental existence. It makes us feel better or more connected, but it does not change the core.
Leadership is the same way. We can give someone the name of leader, but does that truly change who they are at the core?
I see it time and again in student ministry and in watching people who work with students. They wait for students to show a sign of achievement before bestowing the name of leader. Students lift the renaming up as part of their goal–some target to aim for or strive towards. Once they “become a leader”, then they will step up and lead.
What if this approach misses the point completely? What if I am a leader regardless of whether or not I have the title?
What if I am not searching for someone to give a new name, but instead for someone who already doing what leaders do?
I have said this before, and I will repeat it until I stop breathing or am shown that I’m wrong: leadership doesn’t show up because of a title. You can influence people around you regardless of your place on the org chart. You don’t need a title or a position to exert influence. You need a mindset.
I regularly talk with students about “making the room better.” I want them to walk into a room and it to be a better place because they are there, regardless of their title.
This is what I strive for. I don’t have to be up front to accomplish this. I don’t have to touch every life in the room to accomplish this. But I have to be consistent.
Stop waiting for a title to come your way to lead. Grow your influence.
Stop waiting to bestow a title on a student who is worthy. Throw the title away and help them grow their influence.
Then, at some point down the road, you and they will look up and realize you, and they, are making the room better.
Leadership so often boils down to the impact we make.
Think about someone in your life who has had a leadership influence on you. How would you describe their leadership?
The number of books they read?
The size of their house?
The way they made you feel?
The way they made others feel?
Each of those things, in their own way, reveal the impact they had. Some, more than others.
I think some of the best leaders are not necessarily people who set out to be great leaders, but those who set out to be faithful.
What if our greatest impact as leaders is not because of any program we adopt or implement? What if our greatest impact as leaders occurs because we choose to be faithful to our calling?
Let me rephrase.
Our greatest impact as leaders does not come because of a program we adopt or implement. Our greatest impact as leaders occurs because we choose to be faithful to our calling.
How are you being faithful today?
Tim Elmore has a habitude called the Starving Baker. The idea is simple: a baker who neglects his own hunger in order to bake more will eventually die of starvation. Seems brutal, right? But does that mean it’s not true?
Invest in someone today–yourself. Take a 30 minute silent walk. Pick up a book you’ve been wanting to read but just haven’t made the time for. Listen to a podcast that nourishes you. Listen to some classical music, or some classic rock.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, if our desire is to impact others for the long haul, we have to remain emotionally and spiritually healthy.
Take a moment to eat some of your bread, baker.
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