So You Want to Be a Leader?

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Over the course of my leadership journey, especially the past four or five years, there are a few key principles I can pretty much hang my hat on. And I’ve written about them several times.

Providing students (and adults) a framework to start growing their leadership influence.

The Horizon of Possibility. Oh, and this one, and this one too.

Key traits for student leaders.

Learn from everything.

The Redundancy of Leadership.

Today, I’d like to revisit yet another thought. But first, if you only have time to read one post today, read this one.

Are you ready? This is going to be mind-numbingly simple or incredibly challenging.

Leaders show up.

That’s it. Very few people can positively influence a room by not being in it. If a place is better because we are not there, one of two things are true:

  1. Our level of influence is so great that even in your absence, people have been empowered and equipped to step up, connect, and lead.
  2. Our leadership influence is negative.

Outside of these two instances, if we are not present, we cannot lead. And I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the first one is extremely rare.

If leadership is influence, we have to be present to exert influence: Present in the lives of the people we lead and physically present in the rooms they are in.

I’m watching this play out all around me. If I want to influence something, I have to be part of it. I cannot watch, critique, bemoan, and stay at arm’s length and create any kind of change. But by jumping in, serving, listening, contributing, and listening some more, I can slowly start to build the relational credibility that allows me to grow my leadership influence.

But it only works if I show up.

Where do you need to show up today? Make your presence a priority.

2 Ingredients for a Great Leader

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I’ve never done this before. What follows is a post I wrote in November of 2018. The last three weeks, these words have been on my mind almost continually, so I thought I would share them again. I hope they challenge you.

Have you ever noticed some people look at situations differently than you?

A few years ago, I heard a radio personality talk about how science has proven women and men look at cleanliness differently. Women actually see dirt more easily than men. It’s not that they have some sort of super vision, but their awareness of filth is higher. This means as a husband, I need to adjust my standards of clean in order to be a blessing to my wife.

This happens in developing student leaders as well. So many times, as youth ministers, we fall into the trap of thinking a student has to meet a certain level of leadership ability in order to take on the mantle. But I would disagree.

In fact, as I have been working with student leaders more intensely over the past 3 years, I have noticed 2 criteria which are critical to developing successful student leaders.

1. OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE

I cannot think of a single situation where anyone has led without first making the most of an opportunity. In fact, without opportunity, nothing happens. Where there is no opportunity, there is no movement.

Opportunities are simple, but it may require you changing how you view situations. The old saying goes “If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” While the intent behind the saying may be negative, the truth is opportunity opens up when we shift our perception.

Every time you meet with students, there is an opportunity for leadership. My question for you is: are you making the most of the opportunities around you to allow students to grow and develop as leaders.

2. WILLINGNESS TO SERVE

The other part of developing student leaders, and the most critical, is willingness. If a student is not willing to take intentional steps, any effort you exert will be diminished.

A student’s willingness to serve is imperative to their own development. But if you think about it, this concept is a no brainer.

As an adult, if you need to lose weight or cut back on salt, no one else can make that decision for you. It’s a decision you have to make. The people around you can provide opportunities, but it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities.

Students who are willing to serve, are more likely to grow as leaders. Students who are unwilling to serve will hit a ceiling of their own making.

The bottom line is this: if you can find a student who is willing to serve, give them an opportunity to serve and lead, and watch the impact they begin to make!

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You'll Figure it Out

You’ll Figure It Out

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Did you know I play bass guitar?

I got my first guitar in junior high and learned to play over the following few years. Who am I kidding, I’m still learning to play.

But for Christmas my senior year of high school, my dad bought me a bass guitar. Ever a pragmatist, he decided to buy me a “real” bass so that when/if/when I decided to give up on it, since I was a guitar player, the bass would have a good resale value. That meant my first bass was a Fender Jazz Bass.

But there was something he didn’t expect: I’m a pack rat, so I never get rid of anything. So I kept my bass. I learned one 8 bar blues bass line that made me sound like I knew what I was doing, but never really had occasion to play bass.

Fast forward a couple years. I was serving at my first church as the youth minister. Even though I was in charge of youth, I helped with music where I could. Then, with the arrival of a new music minister, something changed.

Our new music minister was incredibly gifted musically, but had cut his teeth playing bass guitar. So, he started teaching me how to play. But his approach was different.

I generally have a pretty poor memory, but I’m pretty certain we never sat down for a formal “lesson”. It was always learning “on the fly”.

I still have a picture in my head of one morning. He was on guitar. I was on bass. It was the opening song for the morning. Right before he started playing, I remember telling him I didn’t know the song. And his words continue to ring true: you’ll figure it out.

And that’s what I had to do. Sink or swim. And I sank, a lot. Until I learned to swim.

Playing with him I learned to anticipate the changes, to play with the rhythm, to find the groove, and so much more.

His leadership approach is something I occasionally employ today. Sometimes the best tool for growth is immersion.

Does that mean it’s going to be perfect? Nope.

Does that means it’s going to be flawless? Nope.

Does that mean it’s going to be memorable? Very likely, one way or the other.

There is someone in your sphere of influence who needs an opportunity to sink or swim. There is someone you are leading who needs a challenge they feel they cannot meet.

So I have two questions for you today: 1) who is it? and 2) are you willing to step back for the sake of their growth?

Will vs Skill

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When it comes to developing student leaders (or leaders in general), What’s more important: willingness or skill?

Put another way, would you rather have someone who is incredibly skilled and arrogant, or someone who is incredibly willing and less skilled.

In my experience, willingness wins.

I would love to have people who are the absolute best at what they do in every role. But the truth is, I would much rather have someone who is humble and willing to grow because when that person develops their skill, we will accomplish infinitely more.

I can help a willing person grow in skill. I’ve seen it over time, especially in the realm of student ministry. I’ve seen students with a heart to make an impact, discover and strengthen a gift they have.

Very rarely have I seen an arrogant person go the other way. I don’t remember seeing anyone who has shown up believing they have arrived become a positive influence. When the task becomes more important than the heart, we miss the point.

There is someone in your life at the moment who is willing and simply needs someone to invest in them. Take some time today to look around and evaluate how you can help them grow.

The Best Reason to Step Up

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There’s something powerful when we ask someone to join us in leadership.

A few weeks back I had a student step up and serve in a way that almost no one noticed, but in the exact way I needed at the moment. It was unprompted and genuine–two of my favorite aspects of serving.

On the heels of that morning, I encouraged him to sign up for our worship team, and in return I got one of the best answers I’ve seen.

Our worship team (and leadership team) application was online this year. One of the questions read: “Why do you want to be on worship team? Put some thought into this.”

His response? “Because Wes asked me to.”

I’m still smiling. Here I was expecting a thoughtful response from anyone applying (I should know better, right?), and he tells it how it is. Simple. Understated. Truth.

I mentioned my struggle with this last week, but I regularly try to find the line between acknowledging what I see in a student and trying to coax out the potential I see in a student. A healthy conversation uses encouragement, an unhealthy conversation uses guilt.

One of those works in the long term. The other doesn’t.

This kid would likely never see himself as a leader. He would, especially at this point in his life, never acknowledge he has influence. But I saw something in him that morning, and encouraged him to pursue it. Now we are going to take steps together to help him grow.

A quick note: he unknowingly answered the first two questions of 3QL: what needs to be done and what can I do. Some kids get it. When they do, I want to continue to train them to build on what they do naturally, and then help them take the next step to ask the 3rd question: who can I get to help? That’s the power of the three questions. It gives a student a framework to follow to help them leverage their influence.

The same is true for us! The three questions help me leverage my influence to accomplish more. And I hope you would say the same thing!

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