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?

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?

Can Bad Ideas Be Good For You?

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I truly love working with teenagers. More often than not, I’ll listen to a kid preparing to share a wild idea they’ve had, and simply be filled with glee. Most of the time they know their idea is a stretch, but there’s always hope.

I’m the same way. Sometimes I toss out a bad idea just because I know it’s a bad idea and because I want some creative juices to start flowing. An outlandish statement helps me find my grounding principle.

I think we need to learn to sift through bad ideas in order to find the good ones. In fact, isn’t that the balance? We don’t know a good idea when it’s presented if we haven’t discovered bad ideas along the way.

When I share a bad idea with someone and they tell me so, it pushes me to keep thinking. I evaluate what makes it a bad idea. I try to tweak it, or decide to move on completely. At the end of the day, though, none of us are immune.

When someone shares a bad idea with me, it sparks my creativity. Is there a tweak to change the bad idea into a good one, or do we need to move in a different direction? It gets me thinking. It challenges me.

So today I want you to lean into your bad ideas. You don’t have to pursue them, but as you think through the situations you face, acknowledge your bad ideas in the process. I think it will help you know the good idea when you see it. But be gracious with yourself and with those around you.

Or, who knows. Maybe I’m wrong and this post was a bad idea…

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Permission to Multiply

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Today, instead of sharing an old post, here’s a fresh one.

Each week, following our Wednesday night program, I sit down with our student leadership team to evaluate the night. My wife usually hangs around until we finish to make sure kids are getting picked up and other assorted duties.

We’ve recently added a new volunteer, a young man who is excited to help where he can. In addition, I have our summer intern who lives in town and helps on Wednesdays nights as well, and someone I’ve been meeting with weekly for the past year.

A few weeks back, while I was meeting with student leaders, my wife shared this observation. My former intern was putting things up, making trips to and from our “base of operations” (we are essentially a portable ministry within our building for this current season). After he finished about two of the steps, he realized our new volunteer was nearby, and a light bulb went off. He showed the new guy how to do what he was doing, so the next time either of them would be equipped to do the job.

Actually, the conversation was more like this: “Shoot, has Wes taught you the three questions yet? No? Okay, he will, but until then, let me show you what I’m doing.”

And that’s the power of the third question. It’s an excuse to invite someone to join you. If you (or the people you lead) are not naturally gifted at asking for help, the three questions give a framework for expanding leadership influence.

That influence expansion begins with cleanup after a program, but very quickly, as the muscle is developed, it grows into leveraging influence to lead others in accomplishing a goal.

Someone around you needs permission to ask others for help. Teach them the three questions and see what happens!

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Big Change Takes Time to Chew

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

I fancy myself a thinker. I enjoy looking at situations and dreaming up next steps. As such, I spend a large chunk of my time thinking and considering options.

Along the way, I’ve learned an important leadership principal:

Big Change Takes Time to Chew

Just because I’ve spent countless hours thinking about a change I want to lead, does not mean the people around me and, more importantly, those from whom I need support in the change, have spent countless hours thinking about the change.

In fact, often times, I’m suggesting a change they may have never considered.

When I include other people in the planning and thinking process, three things happen:

1. They feel like part of the decision, because they are

When someone feels free to offer opposing views in a supportive way, solutions are more easily sought out and pursued. And with ownership comes buy-in.

2. They get to work through their hesitations

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have initially bristled at a decision made by someone above me, only to realize the validity a little time later (sometimes hours, sometimes a few days). Time can help ease (or raise) doubts. 

3. They take ownership of the new direction

Decisions are implemented much more fluidly when leadership is on the same page. One body moving in the same direction proves more effective than chaos. 

One Final Disclosure

I am not saying you let the people around you determine the direction, but instead you bring them to the table and treat them like their thoughts and opinions matter, because they do. And sometimes, the collective wisdom will present a path you hadn’t considered previously.

I am far from the world’s best at this, and still regularly make mistakes, BUT I do know enough to say: do not let the people around you choke on the big changes, because big change takes time to chew.

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