Is This the Worst Student Leadership Mistake?

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What do you do when you have a student who shows great leadership potential?

Over the course of my ministry experience I’ve had a few students who seem to be a step ahead of their peers when it comes to reading and understanding a room. They have an intuition about them that makes them appear more mature and capable than everyone else.

So, it only makes sense to give them more and more responsibility, right? I mean, we want to develop student leaders. That’s kind of the point of what I write about here at 3QL.

Let me offer one caveat. And it’s one that is still fresh in my mind.

I never want to crush a potential leader’s spirit. I desperately try to avoid adding too much to their burden, but when a student has a high capacity, I find myself wrestling with this.

That’s why I’ve started reminding myself of the following thought.

Give students student leadership opportunities, not adult leadership opportunities.

If you want someone to feel the weight and worry of leadership, give a teenager the load you would expect from an adult. I’m not saying some teenagers cannot handle such responsibility, but they have the rest of their lives to be adults.

Put in the effort to help a student find appropriate levels of challenge for where they are. I want to avoid expecting a 14 year old, who shows incredible capacity for influence, to carry the load I would ask a 34 year old to carry. No one wins in that situation.

Instead, I want to help that 14 year explore leadership in appropriate avenues.

Stretch their thinking? Of course.

Challenge their abilities? Sure.

Help them grow their leadership influence? Absolutely.

But if I ask them to start adulting, they will burn out and I will give up.

So, how are you at this? Are you providing high capacity students with student leadership opportunities?

Perspective Comes with Time

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One of my favorite preaching/teaching series I do is on the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis. Time after time it seems like everyone is out to get him, but the picture we see is a man of incredible faith and consistency. The point I try to drive home each time is that we cannot see the end from the middle.

Looking back allows us to make sense of what we’ve gone through. The stock market illustrates this. Stock brokers spend their entire lives evaluating what the market has done in order to help them determine what it may do next. But, regardless of what they may say, no one can tell you if today is a high or a low until they see what tomorrow does.

Our lives, and leadership, are like this. It is incredibly difficult to tell if the situation we are facing right now is a high, a low, or just something in between. Until we gain perspective.

That’s why I’m fascinated by the way perspective impacts leadership. The way we view a situation, or challenge, or opportunity, determines how we respond. We may not ever be able to know in the moment where we are in the grand scheme of things, but we can know our call is consistent–to lead.

In my new position (I haven’t been here a year yet, so I can still say new), I’m not making changes to impact tomorrow, but to help build a thriving culture three years down the road. It’s hard to know what to emphasize and brush off in the mean time. At the end of the day, however, when I embrace that I’m serving for the long haul, those day to day hills and valleys only provide further perspective.

So, what about you? What perspective do you need today? Take time to look back and acknowledge what you’ve gone through to help you move forward.

What's Your Plan?

What’s Your Plan?

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Having a plan of attack always helps me. Sure, I can shoot from the hip as well as most people, but there are some things where having a plan is just better.

When I started this blog three years ago, I did not have a solid plan, other than a topic I wanted to tackle. Over time, however, I developed a plan. I may modify the plan, but for the most part, the plan helps.

When I trained for a half marathon, I followed a plan. I didn’t know what I was doing, other than running, but my plan put me on the right path to accomplish the goal.

Developing Student Leaders is very similar. When I look back over the past 10+ of developing student leaders, I may have swung blindly early on, but as time passed, I was able to develop a plan that moved me in a direction. Yes, that plan has been (and will continue to be) modified, but it’s a plan nonetheless.

Think of it like this: if I want a student to grow in their leadership influence, then I need to know what steps I want them to take. Those steps may be simple, or they may be a little more complex. But they are steps, regardless.

So, as I’m starting a leadership team in my current context, what’s my plan? Pretty simple: raising awareness, willingness, and leadership (sound familiar?), and prayer. I want students to start looking for opportunities to influence a room. And it helps to have a goal.

What’s your plan? What are you striving for? What steps are you helping students (or the people you lead) take to grow their leadership influence? Is there something you need to change? Is there something you need to ramp up? What are you waiting for?

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!

Leaders show up

Leaders Show Up

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If you’ve worked with students for very long (or people in general), I’m guessing the following conversation rings some bells:

Student: I want to step up and be more of a leader.

Me: That’s great! Here are some things to keep in mind.

Student: ***Misses the next month***

Me: …

A few years back I had a leadership team of students who had applied and gone on the leadership trip. Part of the application was agreeing to come to monthly meetings, but as the year waned on, our attendance started dropping, and not only to the monthly leadership meetings.

Now, I have a constant internal struggle about attendance expectations. I have come to the conclusion that I’m a rarity when it comes to church attendance. When I was growing up, I was at the church as much as possible. I didn’t have a bad home life (the opposite, actually), but I loved being together with other believers. For most of my life, I’ve been the kid (and now the guy) who hangs around the church building until almost everyone else has gone.

But most people aren’t wired that way, at least not with church attendance.

Sports, yes. Civic organizations, maybe. Weekly meals with groups of friends, yes. But church, for some reason that’s foreign to me, elicits a lower attendance commitment. (At this point, I need to clarify I’m not equating spiritual maturity to church attendance. I do, however, think our commitment to the body of Christ increases as Christ becomes a greater priority in our life.)

I have wrestled with the disparity between my commitment of attendance and others’ commitment for years. Over time, I realize it’s not fair to expect everyone to be as consistent to church attendance as I am (and was prior to being on staff). I’m wired differently, and that probably plays into why I do what I do.

As I began thinking about how to communicate to students interested in identifying as leaders the importance of attending, I landed on a simple phrase.

Leaders show up.

Simple, right? If leadership at it’s very core is influence, it is extremely difficult to influence a room you’re not physically in, especially early on.

If leadership influence grows through relationship, it’s even more difficult to build relationships with people you’re never around.

If we, as leaders, cannot commit to making our presence a priority, then how can we call ourselves leaders?

The same is true for me. If I expect to become an influencer in the lives of the people to whom I minister, I have to show up. The room should be better because I’m there. If it’s better when I’m not there, then it’s time for a reality check on my part.

Students need to hear this. Adults need to hear this. We need to hear this. Leaders show up. Your presence makes a difference, and it should be a positive difference.

Go be present today.

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