I was scrolling through Facebook this weekend and saw a post that made me raise my eyebrows. It was a picture of a group of seniors and the statement was something along the lines of “these seniors are ready to be the leaders of their school.”
I think the sentiment behind the posting of the photo was right, but I would push back a little.
Leadership doesn’t show up when the title shows up. Leadership runs like a current beneath the surface, and a title helps bring the current to the surface.
Those students aren’t leaders because they are seniors in high school. They are seniors in high school. Granted, being a senior puts you in positions to lead. Being a senior gives you a level of gravitas to step up and lead. Being a senior allows you the potential to have more influence. But being alive longer (than younger students) doesn’t automatically mean you’re a leader. It just means you’ve been alive longer.
Maybe what I push back on the most is the idea that you have to be a senior to lead. I didn’t believe that when I was in school. In fact, I was not taught that. I was taught the opposite.
At my home church, starting my freshman year, we had a vacancy of leadership, so I found ways to step up. I didn’t wait to have the title. I was given the opportunity and did the best I could.
I’ve seen this play out in the lives of other students. The strongest leaders are the ones who, in the absence of leadership, step up. Perpetuating the thought that “now you’re a senior, you’re a leader” communicates to juniors that they have not yet arrived. Or that a freshman doesn’t stand a chance.
Here’s what I would say: senior year provides a sense of urgency to lead, and that’s completely natural. But, if we aren’t teaching students to step up and lead as middle school students, as freshmen or sophomores or juniors, then when the title of senior arrives, they will be in a sink or swim situation.
If you work with students, find ways to provide opportunities for them to expand their leadership influence. Let’s help students learn to take a stand regardless of their age. Then, when they become seniors, they will have been trained to make the most of their title.
But if you are alive, let me challenge you: If you’re waiting for your “senior year” (literally or figuratively), stop waiting and find a way to step up and lead today.
One of Maxwell’s Laws of Leadership is the Law of Explosive Growth – If you want to grow, lead followers; if you want to multiply, lead leaders.
Here’s what I’ve found in ministry: I have to lead both.
Hear me out. I’m not contradicting one of the foremost leaders on leadership.
Instead, what I’m saying is that if all I do is spend my time and energy looking to find leaders, then I’m spinning my wheels.
But, if I develop a mindset that says “I’m going to develop anyone who shows interest”, then I have a system set up for greater leadership potential to rise to the top.
Once I have identified a student with a higher leadership ceiling, then I can spend more time trying to draw that out of them, helping them grow and develop.
The truth of the principle is still there–leaders make a greater impact. I believe that with all of my heart. But willing leaders still make the difference. I can never lead someone to a place they are unwilling to go. I can take a little willingness and help them achieve new heights, but I cannot make an unwilling jumper a world class diver.
What system are you putting into place that allows students to explore their leadership leanings? Do you have ways of identifying leaders with higher ceilings? Do you need to add something like that?
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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Last week I got to spend time at camp with a group of six student leaders. For the last three summers, I have helped develop and grow what we call the Horizon Leadership Camp (HLC).
The concept is simple: when a church group comes to camp, they have the option to have a student or two apply for HLC. The student goes to camp with their own church group, is part of a leadership focused small group, help lead rec, and pour back into someone from their group–trying to grow relationships that will last well beyond camp.
In total, HLC has convened seven times over the past three summers, and I have been in the room for most of them (although not all). Along the way, there are a few things I’ve started to notice:
All in all, I have learned so much about myself over the past three summers (running concurrently with the beginning of this blog, if you hadn’t made the connection). Few things in ministry excite and energize me as much as being able to have authentic conversations with a student who is wrestling with their own understanding and ability to lead. In turn, my leadership influence grows as I challenge those around me to grow.
So, as I ask from time to time, Student ministers: what are you doing to train your student leaders? How are you equipping them? How are you pouring into them? What opportunities are you providing them? Where do you need to start?
There are a few leadership ideas and thoughts that have a way of resurfacing in my life from time to time.
I love routine. Once I find a good routine, I have an uncanny ability to stick with it.
Last year I wrote a post fleshing out this redundancy idea, and thought I would share it today. You can check out it out here.
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