The Why of Leadership Development

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I’m going to go out on a limb and confess something today. I don’t have everything figured out.

When it comes to leadership and leadership development, I feel like I have way more blanks than answers. I look at my own development and see where I fall short. I look at how I’m developing students and see where I fall short. I look at how I’m developing adults and see where I fall short.

And in that moment I’m faced with a decision that I think everyone of us faces: what comes next? What’s my response going to be to admitting my seemingly insurmountable shortfalls? What am I willing to do about the need that I see?

I’m going to do something. It may be the right thing. It may be the wrong thing. It may be just in time, or way too early. But the worst thing I can do is no-thing.

Leadership development is one of the most challenging things I do: It’s fluid. It’s elusive. It’s not easy. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. It’s never fully done.

So why do I stick with it?

Because it’s also one of the most rewarding things I do.

When a student catches the vision of the influence they have in a moment, something powerful happens. When they step up to realize the difference they can make in the lives of their peers, classmates, teammates, coworkers, parents, and teachers, lives begin to change.

So today I ask you a simple question: What are you doing to develop leaders around you? My context puts me in touch with students (and adults), so that’s my focus. What’s yours? Who in your realm of influence needs a leader cheering them on? What are you waiting for?

Lessons from the Bottom Bunk, pt 1

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I’m spending two weeks at camp, so I thought I would share some insight from 18 years of being a camp sponsor. Share any tips you might have in the comments!

The most important part of any camp schedule is what’s not written in the schedule.

The youth camp we go to is easily one of my favorites for many reasons. But one of the best: there’s unofficially scheduled down time. That means there are a lot of gaps. It’s not a crazily paced day designed to wear everyone out. It’s designed to make the most of the time we have, but it’s also easy to miss.

That’s why you have to make the most of the schedule. Find the gaps and use them for conversations. Linger at a meal, sharing stories and laughter. Sit in the shade, making observations about life. Dominate 9 square, getting accused of being a bully. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t the best use of time.

But the truth is the same.

Any good camp will have downtime. And sometimes the downtime provides the best opportunities for life changing conversation. Keep that in mind.

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Who Sets the Target?

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When my girls were younger and in the “I don’t want to eat all of my food stage”, I would try to trick them. When they got to what they thought would be the end of their meal, I would say, “why don’t you take three more bites?”. From there, I would repeat the challenge until their food was gone. Eventually they caught on, but the effectiveness was surprising.

We had different targets. Their target was to finish eating as quick as possible and get back to playing. My target was their health.

As leaders, I don’t think we have to trick people into accomplishing a task, but I do think our role becomes one of setting the target, or inviting people into the conversation as we seek to set the target.

If we as leaders don’t at least help define what we’re aiming for, then the people we lead will decide instead. Letting someone else decide the target may not always be a bad thing, but you always run the risk that they will choose something that is actually the opposite of the progress of the ministry.

If our goal is to grow disciples, then having the best video games may not be the win.

If our goal is to impact our community, then having the cleanest space may not be the win.

If our goal is to lead people to worship, then having the best a/v system may not be the win.

But unless we take the time to communicate the target for which we’re aiming, we run the risk of wasted effort.

Andy Stanley talks about this as “Clarifying the Win” (you can listen to a conversation on this here, and it’s worth your time!).

At the end of the day, you have been placed in a leadership position for a reason. Take the necessary steps to make sure everyone you lead is on the same page and moving in the same direction. this happens most naturally by making sure you choose, clarify, and communicate the target at which you’re aiming.

What Do You Expect?

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Welcome to July. We are now halfway through summer. And if you’re a student minister, that means one of two things: you have just finished a big event (camp or mission trip), or you have one coming. Or maybe both are true.

As you reflect or prepare, let me ask you a simple question: are you communicating your expectations?

I just finished an event, and while I ended being pleased with the outcome, there were one or two burrs under my saddle, so to speak. Attitudes that I would have liked to see, but they were sadly absent. But at the end of the day, I didn’t communicate my expectations. I didn’t communicate the attitude I expected, and so my frustration lies with me.

We can’t hold someone to a standard they don’t know exists. This is a hard lesson I’ve had to learn over time. If we don’t communicate what we expect, then people will lean towards being content with what they’re doing, or living in a state of perpetual unrest.

Bottom line: everyone wins when you communicate expectations. Make sure the expectations are reasonable, but communicate away. The people you lead will be grateful.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Mistakes

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A while back, at a previous church, I realized I had been making the wrong announcement for a month. Well, maybe not the wrong announcement, but taking the wrong approach.

We had a community outreach opportunity coming up, and one of the key elements for pulling it off was having church members fill eggs with candy. But, too late in the process, I realized we could have been encouraging our members to fill eggs AND invite people from our community. Simple enough, right?

Part of leadership is realizing and admitting you make mistakes. Some mistakes, like failing to emphasize the inviting nature of an outreach event, are relatively minor, something we might consider to be simply missed opportunities. Other mistakes carry consequences, like hesitating to schedule an event and losing the opportunity to make it the best possible as a result.

So, today, how do we overcome mistakes or missed opportunities? Here are 3 things I have learned over the years.

  1. Admit It. More than likely everyone knows you made a mistake, so admit it. Few things are more difficult than following a leader who never admits to doing anything wrong. Admitting mistakes is a sign of maturity, humility and humanity.
  2. Own It. There is a slight difference between admitting you made a mistake and owning your mistake, but there’s a difference. When we learn to own our mistakes, we take responsibility for the new course we are on. When we take ownership of the mistake, we are then able to evaluate and move forward.
  3. Grow From It. Most people would prefer to follow someone who admits their mistakes, but few people will continue to follow a leader who always makes mistakes. Learn from the mistakes you make by evaluating what you could do differently, and fix it the next time.

The bottom line is this: you will make mistakes. Everyone does. You will miss opportunities. Everyone does. But what you do on the back side is what will set you apart as a leader.

Grow in your leadership today. Learn from your mistakes and missed opportunities.

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