Baby Steps

Baby Steps

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I’m a terrible parent.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve felt this way for a while, but it feels nice to be able to say it.

When our first child was still an infant, I distinctly remember a conversation with my wife. As our daughter was learning to take her first steps, I mourned the mobility that was looming ahead. Gone were the days of her being only where we led her. Coming soon were the days where we had to chase and keep up with her. And boy did those days come.

Granted, this conversation was tongue in cheek, but the sentiment was there. Those first few steps marked the end of an era.

Developing student leaders is a similar experience. As we teach students to influence a room, we are teaching them to take baby steps. There are times they are more than capable of accomplishing a goal by themselves, but they lean on our experience or expertise.

Sometimes these baby steps, however, are a little more difficult. And that’s okay. Everyone has to struggle at first. The things that come second nature to us, like including people in our projects, are an appropriately larger chore for a student who is just experiencing leadership.

The problem comes, however, when they never learn to walk on their own. Our leadership reaches the maximum potential when those around us discover their maximum potential.

One word from my current experience. As I’m teaching a new group of student leaders and trying to help them exert their influence, we are missing a key element. We have not had a chance for me to teach them the 3 questions, and I’m feeling it.

In case you’re not familiar, the three questions (for which this blog is named), serve as a framework to help students (and adults) look for and pursue opportunities to influence the room. The questions don’t make someone a leader, but they serve as a great place to start raising awareness of leadership opportunities. Check them out here. It’s always good to be reminded.

Cast the Vision, not the path

Cast the Vision, Not the Path

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So much of leadership is about casting vision. Looking at what is and painting a picture of what could be.

So much of developing student leaders is helping them catch the vision so they can cast it down the road.

Some students will naturally respond to opportunities, almost instinctively seeing the possibilities before them and pursuing them. Others, however, face a bigger hill to climb.

So, how do you handle a student wrestling with the goal? Continue to cast the vision.

In my current ministry, I see a few things that need addressing and am trying to raise student leaders who see the need and meet the need. But my goal is to cast the vision, not the path.

If I spell out every step a student should take, I’m not teaching them to lead. I’m teaching them to take the steps I’m telling them to take. That would be akin to the parent in the stands of a game shouting every action their kid should make. If the voice stops, the child does too, thus missing the point.

Sure, I can tell a student every step to take to reach the vision, and I may set out a few stepping stones, but if a student leader never has to think or wrestle, then am I raising a student leader or a robot?

The beauty of developing leaders is that everyone takes a different approach. Why would I want someone to execute things the way I would do it, when I might could learn something from their way?

As you work with student leaders, or even adult leaders, work to develop them. Empower them to look for and meet needs. Train them to make an impact. The process may be messy, but the end result is worth it.

When to Walk Away

When to Walk Away

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What happens when you misread a situation?

I had a situation recently where I made a decision to handle something one way, and it turns out it was completely wrong.

Have we talked about how unique people are? There are not just one or two unique people in the world, all of us are. We may handle things similarly, but none of us handle every thing the same way as someone beside us.

We all have baggage and issues we carry with us that impact how we interpret actions of those around us. And until we 1) acknowledge our own baggage and 2) realize our baggage is not someone else’s baggage, we will misread and misplay situations.

So what do you do when you misread a situation? You have two options: move on or try to make it right.

When we move on we basically throw our hands up in the air and walk away, deciding the outcome does not cover the effort. Sometimes this is necessary because the situation quickly devolves into quicksand, sucking our time and energy dry. We get trapped trying to sustain our position, and no one wins.

When we try to make it right, we are saying “this relationship/situation/scenario is worth the effort.” It may cause us angst or stress or worry along the way, but we think the end goal is worth the effort we have to put forth.

Now, how do you know the difference? That’s why you get paid the big bucks to be a leader. What guiding principles do you have leading you? What mission or vision are you pursuing? What values determine your actions? Have you written them down?

Whatever situations you find yourself in this week, ask yourself if you need to dig in and try to recover, or if you just need to walk away. Then do it.

The Repetition Key

The Repetition Key

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Practice makes perfect, or so the saying goes.

The past few years I have coached my oldest daughter’s basketball team. Right or wrong, one of the things I made them do was work on shots from the block. I wanted them to be able to make a shot close to the basket using the backboard.

We would have competitions to see who could make more. We would take turns. We would have timed drills, all with the purpose of helping them develop that one shot.

Why? Because you perform how you practice. If you practice making shots from the block, you have a higher likelihood of making shots from the block in a game. The math is simple.

There’s a rhythm to the repetition. Your muscle memory takes over at some point.

For me, in high school, I shot countless shots from “the elbow” of the free throw line. That was almost 20 years ago, but guess what: today, I can make an elbow shot almost without thinking about it. I repeated the process over and over, and it has stuck with me, somewhat.

Leadership is redundant. As we teach students the ins and outs of leadership, we have to embrace the redundancy.

It’s practicing block shots every practice, knowing eventually you can move further away.

It’s asking and answering the 3 questions every week, over and over, and seeing how the answers change.

It’s inviting those around you to join you as you accomplish a task.

Leadership is doing the same thing over and over. Even when you think you cannot do it again, repeating the process. And teaching others to do the same.

Does repetition get old? Sure.

Does repetition get boring? Sometimes.

But is repetition necessary? Absolutely.

As I’m embarking on helping developing a new group of student leaders, I realize the importance of repetition, and easy repetition to start. I’m striving to help them find a rhythm, to find a place to get started. The goal is to help these student leaders see the opportunities for them to make an impact.

What needs repeating in your setting? Are you willing to tackle it?

4 Reasons for a Leadership Application

4 Reasons I Have a Leadership Application

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I am in the process of interviewing students who applied for our Student Leadership Team. The application process is two fold: a written application and an interview.

The written application is a compilation of 9 questions. The questions help give me insight into how these students think about leadership–which is always insightful. One of the questions, specifically, asks how they hope to grow from their time on the leadership team, and from that I learn what they expect leadership team to look like.

But there’s more to my reasoning than just to get an inside look. Here are four reasons why I have an application process for Student Leaders:

  1. An application process sets the precedence that leaders put in extra time. Leadership is one part shifting our focus (awareness) and one part doing the extra work (willingness). If a student is not willing to take the time to fill out a few questions (as little as 5-10 minutes) they are likely not willing to go the extra mile. If there is no commitment up front, then you will get some students who just want to do something for the sake of doing something.
  2. An application process communicates a desire to do more. For some students, they feel like they could be doing more, but they don’t know where to start. When you open a process and allow them to pursue the steps of joining a team, it helps cement in their minds their desire to take another step.
  3. An application process helps establish commitments. I set the deadline and then give a week window for interviews. If they cannot schedule a meeting within that week, then they may need to wait to join the team. Leaders commit and follow through with their commitments. The application process (written and interview) helps teach them to take initiative.
  4. An application process starts moving everyone in the same direction. It gives a shared experience. Every student answers the same questions. I unintentionally left a very poorly worded question on the form, and it ended up being a unifying moment as the kids talked with each other trying to figure out what it meant. They now have the shared experience of trying to answer that question. (This was the answer I was expecting, by the way.)

I have never turned away a kid who applied, although I have had one who filled out the application but at the interview decided to back out (which I agreed with wholeheartedly).

What does your application process look like for student leaders? Does your experience line up with mine? I’d love to hear from you!

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