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?

4 Surprising Insights for Growth

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Last week I was supposed to be gone, but my trip got cancelled. So, I was faced with a decision: do I pick up the things I handed off, or do I go about my day being present, but not filling my normal roles? I chose the latter, and learned a few things.

Before I share some of the insights I gleaned, I think it will be beneficial for you to know where my head’s at currently. I’ve been in ministry for coming up on 19 years. The last 5 or so have seen a significant shift in my approach to ministry. And it’s no coincidence that I’ve been blogging for 5 years!

The shift I’ve made is rather simple: how can I intentionally train and empower others to grow in their leadership influence.

I’ve done this a few ways. I’ve written 470+ blog posts over the past 5 years that served as real time reflections of issues I was facing, as well as observations of things I believe to be leadership principles. I’ve started intentionally meeting with people for the purpose of mutual growth–reading through books together, watching video series, covering leadership principles, etc. I’ve taught teenagers to ask and answer the 3 Questions, and held them accountable in the process.

All that to say, I’m trying to shift to more of an equipper of leaders around me.

So, the Sunday I was present but had planned to be gone, helped give me some perspective on four things:

  1. The things I think won’t get done without me, will actually get done without me. I’ll be considerable more specific than usual, but on a Sunday morning, I tend to stress out about setup. Our ministry is in a season where we are essentially a portable ministry, so setup is a major part of what we do, and we have very little time to do it (10-12 minutes, generally speaking). I made the hard decision not to help with setup (something I lead every week), and things still got set up. People knew the need and felt the responsibility to meet the need, so they met the need. Key takeaway: Be more intentional about encouraging others to take the lead in setup, freeing me up to focus more on connecting.
  2. We have a good flow. I’m a routine guy, so when I can have a routine and work the routine, I feel good. That also means when I’m not the one up front, the routine is still known and understood. I really like the way we’ve structured our teaching model, and think it helps others when they’ve seen the routine and understand the routine. Key takeaway: continue to maximize the routine, but be willing to change it up when necessary.
  3. We have incredible leaders. The adults who work with students are great. It was a low adult Sunday due to a holiday weekend, but the ones who showed up were fully engaged and ready to make a difference. More than that, our student leaders, for the most part, get it and are willing to step up when given the opportunity.
  4. There’s still room to grow. I don’t think I could miss a month without a hitch, and I don’t know if that should even be my goal. But, there’s still room to grow. There are still people to train, there are still people to empower, there are still needs to be met. We are not there. Key takeaway: keep pouring into those around me.

All in all, I was grateful for a day to reflect. I’ve not arrived as a leader, and I’m okay with that. But I’m trying to grow.

Now, think about your arena of influence. If you were scheduled to be gone and were able to be a fly on the wall, what might you learn? Do you think you’d be pleased or disappointed? Are you holding on to things because you think no one else will do them? Do you need to make adjustments so confusion is minimized? Take a minute to reflect on how you might grow as a leader, and how you can lead those around you to do the same.

Your Growth Matters

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If you’ve been reading my thoughts for very long, you’ve probably figured out I’m a fan of a little known leadership guy named John Maxwell. Have you heard of him?

I try to listen to his leadership podcast regularly, but find myself listening in spurts. I checked in last week for one that was, in my opinion, top notch. And I want to share it with you.

But before I share the information, let me share a quick word.

Your growth matters.

Your personal growth, your professional growth, your leadership growth, your relational growth, and your spiritual growth all matter immensely to who you are as a person. The people around are blessed or hindered by your growth. And growth is not a short term process. Healthy growth requires a long game mentality.

Take steps today that will provide benefit for you tomorrow, next week, next year, and five years down the road. You’ll be better for it, trust me. Or trust John Maxwell.

Okay, now here you go. You can search for The John Maxwell Leadership Podcast in your podcast player, or here’s a link to his show page where you can watch a YouTube version of the podcast and download a worksheet to go along with John’s talk.

What step are you going to take today to grow? What are you waiting for?

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Happy New Year

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If you haven’t noticed, I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus the last few months. But I didn’t want to let the New Year pass without a post, mostly because I love the New Year.

“Resolutions” are usually hit or miss as to what people think of them. I don’t know that I set actual resolutions, but I do try to lean into the rhythm and energy that comes with a new year.

A few years ago I worked up a sheet to review a year, and it made an incredible difference for the next year. I’d like to share that worksheet with you. There’s nothing magical about it, other than the time you take to put into it.

I remember hearing John Maxwell say “Experience isn’t the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.” That is incredibly true. It’s not enough to have an experience and expect to grow. If we truly want to grow, we have to evaluate. I almost erased that last line, but I think it’s incredibly true.

I’m going to spend the rest of this week evaluating and preparing for 2022. I’ve already done quite a bit of that, but I want the energy of the new year to continue to carry me. Will you do the same?

As for the worksheet I mentioned, I’ll send it out to subscribers on Thursday, but you have to be subscribed. So, if you don’t get these posts in your inbox, go here to subscribe!

And if you want a little more of my thoughts on the worksheet and some reflections pre-pandemic, you can go here.

Let’s make 2022 the best yet.

You Guessed It, Redundancy

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I’m going to take a pause from the series I’ve been going through to share a real time thought.

Leadership requires redundancy. I’ve said this over and over, and I’ll keep saying it. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Vision requires reminding. Everyone in an organization needs to be reminded why they do what they do. Otherwise, the work overcomes the goal. Put another way, if vision is not clearly repeated, the work becomes the goal. Answering the three questions is not the goal–leadership is the goal, but if we don’t clearly repeat the vision, the questions in and of themselves (or any framework to teach leadership) are not enough to maintain momentum.
  2. People forget. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working on something only to be reminded of why I started in the first place. My memory is terrible, so I cannot expect everyone around me to remember something the first time I say it. You can’t either.
  3. A clear goal provides energy. The middle of any sports season is usually the most difficult. The excitement of the new season has worn off, and the prospect of the momentum of post-season play has yet to ramp up significantly. The same is true of your leadership. Eventually the newness of what you’re doing is going to wear off, and you’re going to find yourself just far enough away from the goal you’re working towards that you’re ready to quit. But reminding yourself of a clear goal can help you push through. And reminding those you lead of that goal will do the same.

So, look around you. What do you need to say again? What do you feel has been said enough? Say it again, and again. The results will speak loud and clear.

Developing a Student Leadership Team: Know Your Who

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Welcome to a new series titled: Questions to help you start a student leadership team. My goal with these posts is to provide some thoughts and questions to work through as you start a student leadership team. Makes sense, right? You may not agree, and that’s okay! Leave a comment and let me know.

“I just don’t have any leader quality students.” 

“I don’t think they would get it.”

“I don’t have any seniors, how can I start a leadership team?”

At one point or another, all of these thoughts have crossed my mind when trying to decide whether or not to start a leadership team. Then I had a break through.

My job is not to build great leaders. My job is to maximize the leadership potential in front of me.

Do you see the difference?

If I think my job is to build great leaders, then I naturally want to start with highly capable students. Students who are leading already, or are popular, or mature. Eventually the checklist of what we’re looking for grows cumbersome.

If I think my job is to maximize the leadership potential of the students in front of me, then I want to start at a different place-with students who are willing.

Oops, spoiler alert. But let me say it again in a different way so you can catch it.

When it comes to developing leaders, willingness beats talent.

If a student has a natural inclination towards leadership but is unwilling to grow, guess what? You’re going to beat your head against the wall trying to help them grow. You can provide opportunities, but at the end of the day, we do not get to make decisions for those around us. We are not puppet masters. 

If a student, however, is willing to grow as a leader, then the game changes. Their willing desire to grow and to make the most of a situation will repeatedly result in progress you cannot imagine. With a willing student, you can provide opportunities and watch them respond in ways you cannot imagine. 

I cannot overstate this enough. If you’re looking to start a leadership team, or even help a few students grow in their understanding of leadership, look for willingness to make a difference (not willingness to have a title).

There’s an implied understanding here: everyone can be a leader. The degree of influence we have on people around us will vary from person to person, but everyone has the potential.

One last word: of course, a student who has both willingness and a natural inclination to leadership is the ideal. I would never argue against talent, but I will always argue against talent alone. 

My name is Wes, and this is my leadership hot take.

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