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.

3 Thoughts on See You at the Pole

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Yesterday was when schools all around the nation observed See You at the Pole. This event began almost 30 years ago as a group of students planned to gather around their flagpole and pray for their classmates, teachers, administration, and country. Over the years, it has grown, even crossing national borders.

Last week I heard someone allude to how they thought it was played out. That got me thinking about my experience with See You at the Pole (SYATP), so naturally, you get to peruse my thoughts.

  1. SYATP works best when it is student led, beginning to end. In fact, that should be the only way it’s run. As a Youth Minister, I get to share in the routine of my work. Why rob students of the opportunity to share?
  2. SYATP is an incredible leadership development opportunity. While I always encourage students to take the lead, I do offer suggestions to help them process through the emotions that some of them are facing (fear of speaking in public, being afraid to start, unsure of how to organize, etc.). In my previous context, I watched Junior High students stand up and lead High School students at SYATP. When else does that happen!
  3. Praying for schools, classmates, teachers, administrators, and our country is never played out. Having a prayer time at a flag pole just to be seen, well Jesus addressed that mindset. I do see my role as a spiritual leader is to help students process through their “why” – is it to pray or to be seen? Does it have to be on the 4th Wednesday of September? Is there another way to accomplish the same thing?

Full confession: I’m in a new context this year. We had a solid rhythm in our previous context, but this year I chose to sit back and observe. As a result, I saw a student step up in a way I did not expect. Again, leadership opportunities. Other campuses were underwhelming. Missed leadership opportunities.

What are your thoughts on See You at the Pole? What has your experience been?

The bottom line is this: your perspective shapes the way you see the world. When you look for opportunities, you find them.

The Pendulum Swing

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I think there are two types of people in the world: those who have a plan before starting something, and those who build the plan as they go along.

Maybe it’s more of a pendulum arc, where the you are somewhere on the swing of the pendulum, but it’s possible to display a little bit of both.

When I was in my early 20s, I valued my ability to shoot from the hip. As I’ve gotten older, I value preparation and forethought, but I still land on the “let’s throw this up in the air and see where it lands” side of the arc.

Starting something new can be challenging. For me, someone who values a little chaos, it’s hard to anticipate the speed-bumps encountered by those we lead. That’s what happened this past week.

We are in the building phase of a student worship team at my church, and had our first practice on Sunday. My goal going in to practice was to try to discern, in the midst of the chaos, where we were as a group. I walked away encouraged and ready to move forward.

Then I got the text. One of the students was overwhelmed in the moment, created a not-based-on-reality scenario in their head, and was ready to step down.

At the core, it was my fault. I did not prepare them fully for what I was looking for in practice, once again letting key information get trapped in my head (click here to read a previous post about this). The result: frustration, fear, worry, and ultimately feelings of inadequacy.

Would this student have felt these things regardless? Possibly. But did I do everything I could have done to help them prepare? No.

So maybe my pendulum hasn’t reached where it needs to reach.

I truly believe there’s no perfect balance in this. I think we have things that make us strong. But, I do believe if we allow ourselves to completely neglect one side, we start to alienate a lot of people along the way, and our influence diminishes. Ultimately, if we only embrace our strength, then we only lead people who operate like us, thus diminishing our leadership capability.

What about you? Where do you land on the arc? Do you swing to the side of “everything needs a plan and a purpose”? Or do you swing to “step first, look second”? How has that benefited you in the past month? How has it hurt you? What change do you need to make this week?

First 2 steps

Check It Out: The First Two Steps

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There are a few authors on leadership, and especially student leadership, that generally fall into the category of “must read” for me. One of those is Tim Elmore.

Imagine my glee this morning when, as I was perusing my emails, I decided to click on a blog post of his titled “The First Two Steps in a Student’s Leadership Journey.” I clicked through and loved every word of what I read.

In this post, he tells the story of Nathan Patterson, a software salesman in Colorado who threw 96mph in a pitching booth at Coors Field. His video went viral, and the Oakland A’s signed him to a contract. It’s an incredible story, but Elmore is able to highlight a couple key lessons for student leadership.

I’ll share one of my favorite lines from the article, but you’ll want to make sure to click over and read the entire post.

When talking about the effort that goes in behind the scenes, Elmore says, “Most of the ingredients that make our dreams come true are not caught on video.” I think the truth in this statement is deeply profound, specifically the effort we put forth so often is not what gets noticed–its the results of our efforts that get noticed.

So, if you work with students, or if you’re an adult with a dream, go check out the post for some great thoughts and motivation to keep moving forward!

Naming Leadership

Naming Leadership

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My oldest daughter turns 12 tomorrow. When she was younger, she had imaginary friends. Each friend had a name, none of which I can remember. But the name made them personal.

Hang with me for a minute. If you have children, or have ever been one, then you know the power that comes from giving something a name.

We name our stuffed animals. We name our cars (at my former church, “Bertha” was our temperamental van). We name our guitars. Well, you may not have guitars, but I name my guitars and those of other people (shout out to Tay Tay).

There’s an affection that comes from naming them. There’s a sense of pride and ownership. There’s a sense of power.

But at the end of the day, the stuffed animal is a stuffed animal. The guitar is a guitar. The car is a car. The name does nothing to change the fundamental existence. It makes us feel better or more connected, but it does not change the core.

Leadership is the same way. We can give someone the name of leader, but does that truly change who they are at the core?

I see it time and again in student ministry and in watching people who work with students. They wait for students to show a sign of achievement before bestowing the name of leader. Students lift the renaming up as part of their goal–some target to aim for or strive towards. Once they “become a leader”, then they will step up and lead.

What if this approach misses the point completely? What if I am a leader regardless of whether or not I have the title?

What if I am not searching for someone to give a new name, but instead for someone who already doing what leaders do?

I have said this before, and I will repeat it until I stop breathing or am shown that I’m wrong: leadership doesn’t show up because of a title. You can influence people around you regardless of your place on the org chart. You don’t need a title or a position to exert influence. You need a mindset.

I regularly talk with students about “making the room better.” I want them to walk into a room and it to be a better place because they are there, regardless of their title.

This is what I strive for. I don’t have to be up front to accomplish this. I don’t have to touch every life in the room to accomplish this. But I have to be consistent.

Stop waiting for a title to come your way to lead. Grow your influence.

Stop waiting to bestow a title on a student who is worthy. Throw the title away and help them grow their influence.

Then, at some point down the road, you and they will look up and realize you, and they, are making the room better.

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