student ministry, student leadership, student leadership development, youth ministry

How to Create Leadership Experiences

By Doug Franklin April 11, 2017

At LeaderTreks, we use experiences to develop student leaders. You won’t find our staff in front of a white board teaching students the definition of leadership; instead, you’ll find them on mission trips and training events using every possible experience to grow leaders. From the mountain trails of Montana to the urban worksites of Memphis, our staff challenges students to reach their potential. And we want to let you in on our secret to creating powerful and transformational leadership experiences.

Start with Communicating Expectations
To create powerful leadership experiences, we first need to give students a reason to do great things. Students will always work harder when they know the purpose behind their work or when they understand how their actions will affect the overall outcome of the project. I find that when I’m communicating expectations I need to give the “why” or as we say, “the mission.” I share with my students how their actions will impact the Kingdom, and I challenge them to use their influence to further the mission.

“Creating leadership experiences requires that we model for students what we want to see them accomplish.”

Give Students a Clear Example
Students gain confidence in leadership when they have an example to follow. Creating leadership experiences requires that we model for students what we want to see them accomplish. When placing a student in a leadership position, set them up to win. If you want to see a student cast vision to their team, give them an example to follow. Don’t just give them information; empower your students with hands on instruction and coaching.

Release Students to Perform
Here’s the most difficult rub in developing student leaders: we must give students the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. We need to release them to perform. Only when students are challenged to make real decisions and face the consequences of those decisions will they truly grow as leaders. When we fail to turn over responsibility, our students become puppets rather than leaders, and when we step in to rescue students from failure, we miss our opportunities o teach great leadership lessons.

“Here’s the most difficult rub in developing student leaders: we must give students the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail.”

Close Every Experience with Evaluation
Evaluation is hard, but every leadership experience needs a focused time of debriefing what went well and what needs improvement. Through evaluation we drive our relationships with students to new depths and a new level of trust. Evaluation allows us to speak truth into their lives and help students make valuable changes to their leadership and to their lives. I’ve actually found that most students want evaluation; they want to see themselves get better, and they see that evaluation is what accelerates their growth.

On a recent trip I was challenging students to push themselves as they ran wheelbarrows of concrete up a hill. After every time I yelled “Push yourselves. You can do it!” an adult leader from the church would yell, “You’re doing well. Don’t worry!” Let me remind you that students are not doing “well” if they are not working to reach their potential. Keeping them in their comfort zones may make them happy, but it will never develop them as leaders. So next time you craft a leadership experience for your students, keep these four principles in mind. Set clear expectations, model a strong leadership example, release students to succeed or fail, and set aside time for evaluation and reflection. Remember students are the most powerful tools in God’s Kingdom, and we are the sharpeners.

Doug Franklin

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in […]

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