What’s Your Focus?

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Have you ever set a goal and accomplished it?

I set a goal to finish 36 books in 2019, and I did. That came after setting a goal in 2018 to finish a number of books (I don’t remember how many), and not reaching it. Even the fact I don’t remember the number from 2018 but do remember the number in 2019 tells you something.

My focus shifted. I no longer wanted to just have a goal, I wanted to accomplish my goal.

So I made a spreadsheet at the beginning of 2019 and recorded the books I finished. Every time I finished one, I would add it to my last, and update my count at the bottom of the page. And something amazing happened. I met my goal.

It’s actually not that surprising that I met a goal as I was tracking it consistently. It makes sense to most of us. Why?

Because we move toward our focus.

Focus is the difference between setting a goal and achieving a goal.

And the same is true for developing student leaders. If we don’t have a focus to guide them towards, then how are we helping them grow? It’s the difference between some books and 36 books.

Spend some time today narrowing your focus. Decide what you want students to aim for, and how you can help them hit that target. Then, put the target out there and continually remind them it’s there.

Ultimately, if we want to develop student (and adult) leaders, focus is the key.

What’s one way to do that? Implement the three questions and continually ask how they’re answering them. Over time, they will start to see opportunities and meet them instinctually.

Answering Why Me?

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Why Me? Twice in the past couple of months I’ve gotten asked this question.

The first was as I was beginning to work through a leadership growth plan with a couple people, and the second was after offering an invitation for someone to serve.

And both times, the question caught me off guard. For someone who puts a lot of thought into most things, my answer both times was not super plotted out. In fact, both “asks” were almost instinctual.

But as I’ve thought about it, my answer boiled down to four elements:

  1. Opportunity – In both cases, there was an opportunity. For one, I wanted to walk through a leadership growth course, but decided I didn’t want to do it alone. For the other, we had been discussing them helping with students and a limited time opportunity opened up–something in which they could “dip their toes”, so to speak.
  2. Availability – Opportunities abound in life, so the next element was their availability. I felt fairly certain the first one would have the freedom to carve out some time in their schedule, and the second was similar. I didn’t ask people who had known conflicts.
  3. Personality – Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t walk up to random people offering these opportunities. Both were people who I thought could contribute and benefit from the opportunity. This element is huge!
  4. Willingness – This was the wildcard. Would they be willing to say yes? Ultimately, as a leader, we get met with plenty of no’s. But when someone agrees, celebration follows.

Here’s my takeaway: people want to feel included and important. They don’t want to be a convenient excuse. They want a reason.

And I stink at articulating this. Both of these people are people with whom I enjoy spending time. Both are great people. And at the end of the day, both have responded extremely well, and I hope have benefitted.

But when we ask people to join us or to contribute, be ready to give a reason why. Don’t look for warm bodies: instead look for reasons. What do you see in them that they may not see in themselves? How can you affirm them when they are asking the “why me?” question?

Who do you need to ask to help carry the load today? What are you waiting for?

The Best Mindset for Training

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Do you ever think of something you wish you had said, only it was after the fact?

A few weeks back I hosted a youth worker’s meeting (one of only a couple I’ve done since starting). In my intro to the meeting I made a statement along the lines that I realized I had done a poor job training them.

Then one of the leaders asked, jokingly, “Do you think we’re doing a bad job?”

Again, let me emphasize I know this leader’s heart, and know it wasn’t aggressive, but meant to be funny. But still, it made me think. So, here’s my response, three weeks later.

I want to train to maximize, not correct.

At the end of the day, everyone has bad habits in need of correction. But, more than correction, training provides a way forward. When I’m able to help my adults steps forward and become better, stronger, more equipped leaders, then we both win.

Let’s put this another way. A fire extinguisher is not the best way to fight (correct) a grease fire. The best way to fight a grease fire is to implement proper protocols (training) to keep the grease from catching fire to begin with.

Or, let’s go agricultural (because that’s what I do). Good grazing keeps cattle in the pasture way better than good fences. So, when you do the work on the front end to have the best possible grazing, you spend less time on the back end chasing cattle.

It’s the difference between being reactive and proactive. Reactive people spend all their time reacting to what’s happening. Proactive people work to change the outcome from the beginning.

The same is true for student leaders. If I can train them to influence a room, then we make way more progress than if I simply spend my time trying to correct everything they’re doing wrong.

So do you spend more time helping those you lead put out grease fires, or teaching them how to prevent them in the first place?

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.

Real Time Thoughts on Student Leadership

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Back in January, I blogged about the process I was walking through to create a student leadership team at my church. You can follow the progression by starting here.

As we kick off the new school year, I’ve opened up applications again, and here are a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head. I hope they provide some thought and motivation for you to take a step in developing student leaders.

  1. Every kid who signed up in January, signed up again. I try not to base my value and worth on things like this because sometimes life or other transitions happen, but I’m excited the kids who started are planning to stick with it.
  2. Instead of going to kids whom I thought would benefit from what we’re doing, I encouraged our “alumni” to invite two people each. From there, we’ve added a couple more applicants, one of whom I’ve been hoping would join us. Side note, I wrestle with this concept. I think about how much an invitation to serve has meant to me over the course of my life, especially from adults who saw something in me. While at the same time, I’ve had kids to whom I’ve extended an invitation who only signed up out of obligation, and it did not end well. This is definitely a delicate balance, one which I haven’t completely figured out to this point.
  3. I went all online for the application this year. With inconsistencies tied to COVID, this was a great move, and something worth doing moving forward.
  4. I had one incoming 7th grader ask about joining us. In a normal year, our incoming 7th graders wouldn’t be promoted when applications are open, but that’s not the end of the world. I’m thrilled he wants to be part, and think he will make some good contributions down the road, but I ultimately decided January will be the on ramp for 7th graders, allowing them time to be part of the ministry. This may be too quick or too slow, but for the time, it’s what I’m sticking with.

What are you doing to develop student leaders?

Do you have a process for students to join in leadership? What does the process look like?

Or maybe you need to start somewhere. Let me challenge you to gather a few students who are interested in making a difference and equipping them to do so!

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