Developing a Student Leadership Team: Know Your Who

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

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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.

Developing a Student Leadership Team: Know Your Why

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Why do we need to learn this? When will I ever use this in real life? 

And so goes the familiar refrain in math classes all over the country. The core question being asked reveals an innate desire in each of us: we want to understand why?

As we learn to pour into and develop leaders around us, whether students or adults, understanding why we are setting out on this journey sets the guardrails for our process.  

What follows are three answers I’ve used to the question of why:

  1. To lighten the load. One church where I served had very little adult involvement, and even less interest in serving. As the student ministry began growing, I realized there was a significant need to help get simple tasks accomplished, so we established a student leadership team. Students on this team led worship, set up the room, prayed over requests and chairs, greeted, ran media, and filled gaps as needed. This was a remarkable team that met a specific need in that season.
  2. To bless others. Sometimes, establishing a leadership team isn’t about what it does for us, but what it provides for others. Some people (students included) are simply waiting to be invited to serve. Then, once the invitation has been extended, they find incredible joy in jumping in and finding their role and their place with all that’s happening. Having this why changes our approach—we are not inviting people to join just so they can serve us, but because it serves them. This is true for students, as well. Providing a student an opportunity and place to serve is an incredible way to help them discover the purpose God has for their life!
  3. To grow ourselves. The most intentional I ever became about developing a student leadership team was when I started to become intentional about growing myself. As I started to explore what it meant to grow in leadership, I invited students along for the journey. We embarked on a process that led all of us to new heights, and something for which I’ve been incredibly grateful all along the way.

Now, obviously the best why is a mix of the three reasons listed above, or maybe even something you’re going to develop on your own. The importance is coming up with your why and sticking to it.

If we have no vision and no direction, we will wander aimlessly. Discover your why.

Want to Develop Others? Start Here.

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What does it take to start a leadership team? More specifically, for student ministers, what does it take to develop student leaders? I’m going to spend some time over the next few weeks hashing out some of my thoughts. I hope they help!

As I’ve been on a journey of intentionally growing and developing leaders around me, there’s one thing that I am slowly but surely becoming more and more certain of: the importance of growing ourselves.

Put another way, we can not expect to grow other leaders if we do not have a growth plan for ourselves.

Seems like a simple statement, right? But I think it’s one of the biggest hang ups we, as leaders, face. 

As ministers, it’s too easy for us to settle into an event planning mindset-planning for the next program that’s never more than 7 days away. Then add the major events we plan, and with minimal effort our calendar is filled. 

We become very good at doing our job, but miss the benefit of the work we do. 

That’s why it’s important to think through what you’re doing to develop as a leader. Are you growing? Are you being intentional about your growth? Do you have goals that you set and visit regularly? 

Let me try this again. Answer these questions on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 6 (considerable growth).

  1. How much have you grown as a leader in the past 12 months?
  2. How much have you grown as a leader in the past 6 months?
  3. How much have you grown as a leader in the past 3 months?

What’s your answer? Do you see a trend? 

Maybe you’re satisfied with your answers, and if so, I’m thrilled for you! 

Maybe your answers are a little discouraging. If so, I’m cheering for you!

Maybe your answers are inconclusive. If so, I’m cheering for you.

Ultimately, if we want to help those around us grow, we have to take the initiative to grow ourselves. John Maxwell says, “We cannot lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.”

So, how do you grow yourself? There are so many ways, but here’s one of the things I’ve done the past three years: set goals for growth. Pick a date about 3 months out and set a goal to read X number of books. Then, be intentional in doing so. If there are questions to be answered, answer them. If there’s an evaluation tool, use it. Then, after the set time, evaluate and see how you’ve grown. Then adjust and grow some more.

I’m curious. If you’d say you’ve grown lately, what have you done? What works for you?

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