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?

Growth is a Challenge

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Developing student leaders is a challenge.

It’s a challenge to balance the potential we see with the reality of the moment. But when we help a student realize and achieve that potential, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge to convince a student that developing as a leader actually impacts their athletics. But when we help a student become a stronger leader on the court or field, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge to watch a student wrestle with simple decisions because they are torn in so many directions. But when they take a leap and experience the difference, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge when you have to learn a new personality and admit you had it wrong from the outset. But when they come out of their shell and reveal their talent and skill, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge when a student doesn’t see the value in the basics of expanding their influence. But when they realize their actions speak louder than their commands, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge when accountability is not well received. But when they grow from it, it’s worth it.

It’s a challenge when you invite a student to experience a new level of growth, and they politely turn you down. But when they are ready and accept the invitation, it’s worth it.

Ultimately, the greatest reward of developing student leaders isn’t in the easy moments, it’s in the moments that follow the struggle. I don’t know what challenge you’re facing or dealing with in this season, but know that when a student (or adult, for that matter) leans into developing their own leadership influence, it’s worth it.

Lessons from the Farm: Know Your Herd

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Would you like to know a little secret about cattle? Some are never satisfied. They almost intrinsically want to find a way out of wherever they are.

There are exceptions, of course. A good wheat field (today’s picture is actually a picture I received in a text this morning!) will stop a hungry herd in their tracks.

But when you move cattle to a new field or pasture, they will walk the fence line. It seems they do this for two reasons: first they want to know their boundaries, and second they want to find a way out of the field.

That’s why when grazing was not great we would spend time putting cattle back in our fences. And often times it was the same ones over and over.

Sometimes we could see the cattle who were on the wrong side of the fence as we drove through them, but sometimes it wasn’t always that easy. That’s why it was important to keep track of our herd-how many we had, where they were supposed to be, and even kind of what they looked like. We didn’t name every one, but you gain familiarity over time.

The same is true of leadership. Not that people like to jump fences, but we need to know the people we are leading. Spend time getting to know them. Ask questions about their life. Listen to their stories. Care about their lives. You don’t have to be best friends, but leadership is so much more effective through a relationship.

The best part: as you get to know the people you lead, trust is built. And as trust increases, productivity multiplies.

Who do you need to reach out to today? What are you waiting for?

Is This What’s Missing In Your Leadership?

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Is leadership that is not expanding truly leadership?

Bear with me for a minute.

If I’m teaching students to ask and answer the three questions but it stops there, is my leadership influence growing? Even more pointedly, if the students I’m leading are stopping short of answering the third question, aren’t we missing the point completely?

Leadership influence expands when more people fall into that influence. That means I can teach 10 people to grow their influence, or I can teach 10 people to grow their influence who in turn grow their influence by teaching 10 people each. At that point influence isn’t growing, it is multiplying. Like chills in the movie Grease.

Let’s get specific: if I pour into a leader who never into another leader around them, am I really pouring into a leader? Leadership influence is most efficient when we first lead ourselves and then lead others. And leadership influences multiplies when the people I have led begin to lead others.

But secret expectations are rarely met and almost never healthy. You know this. I know this.

How are you equipping those you lead to truly lead others? How are you inviting them to repeat the process?

Let me challenge you today. If you are a regular reader, find one person this week in whom you can start investing. It could be a student. It could be an adult. It could be your child, your spouse, or your neighbor. Teach them the three questions, and then add a fourth: who can I teach the three questions?

Don’t settle for addition. Aim for multiplication.

The Pain of Letting Go

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One of the most difficult things to do in leadership is to watch something grow, and then to let it go.

If you’ve been in a leadership role for very long, you have had the opportunity to oversee something. Maybe a project, or a program, or even a person. You pour time, resources, and emotions into making your something the best it can be.

But, inevitably, if you’re going to grow as a leader, there comes a point where you have to step back and let it go.

Letting it go could mean inviting someone else to play a key and critical role, thus begging the question, “Will they do it as good as me”?

Letting it go could mean launch day, thus begging the question, “Did I cover my bases”?

Letting it go could mean releasing a leader (or student leader) to oversee a project or program, thus begging the question, “Did I train them well enough”?

All of these things are painful. But that does not mean they’re not the right move. Simply put, if we never let go, we will never grow.

If we want our own leadership to grow, we have to let go.

If we want the people around us to grow, we have to let go.

No one has learned to sustain themselves by being spoon fed all along the way.

What are you holding onto today? What can you let go? Who can you invite to step up as you let go?

Our leadership influence grows as those around us grow. Push through the pain today. Trust me, it’s worth it.

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