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Making Tough Decisions: A Student Leader’s Worst Nightmare

By Doug Franklin February 23, 2015

Have you ever noticed that, when a student leader has to make a decision, they lose all confidence? Even the most charismatic, intelligent, high-functioning students shut down when confronted with a decision that has real consequences for the youth ministry and the other students. It’s like the power to their brain switches off.

But if we want to grow our students as leaders, we can’t make all of their decisions for them. Eventually, they will have to be placed in situations where their choices have real consequences. That’s the only way they can test their expectations, learn from their mistakes, and craft the leadership that they’ll take out of high school and into the world. So how do we help boost a student’s confidence when it comes to making tough decisions?

Here are three keys to growing students’ confidence:

Connect the Dots
Students need an adult who will connect the dots for them, starting with how God has wired them and ending with how that wiring can be used in real life. Each of your student leaders has unique gifts, skills, abilities, and personality. Is it any wonder that students have a hard time powering their decision making when they don’t have a clear understanding of how they’re wired in the first place? Take students through personality type assessments and spiritual gift inventories. Watch how they interact with other students and affirm their strengths when they use them naturally. Then explain how those same skills can be used in tough leadership situations. This positive encouragement will help students begin to take the risks that will grow those strengths instead of letting them stagnate.

Offer Opportunities
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Students also need adults to be risk takers with them. They need positive support and a safety net, but they’ll never learn to make big decisions if they aren’t given opportunities for both success and failure. It’s tough for youth pastors to let go of control and risk failure by handing the reins to student leaders. But how can we expect our students to take risks when we won’t take risks ourselves? Trust students to make tough decisions with real consequences, and always offer support and direction if a decision results in failure. Your job isn’t to make their decisions for them. It’s to equip them to make tough choices and to learn from their mistakes. When student leaders sense that you believe in them, they will start believing in themselves.

Be Consistent
Students need adults who will be steady through all the inconsistencies of teenage life. Adults should hold student leaders to a high expectation, but never abandon them when they’re going through failure. That’s why debrief time is so important after every major decision a student leader makes. Sure, it’s time consuming, but it also provides the consistency that teaches students that successes should be celebrated and used to influence future decisions and failures aren’t the end of the world and can be great learning opportunities, too. That kind of role in a student’s life takes trust—the kind that only comes from knowing you’ll be there for them if things go south. This kind of relationship produces unshakeable confidence.

When these three pieces are in place, students will start leading and making decisions with conviction. As they discover how their gifts fit into their leadership role through the opportunities you give them to make real leadership decisions, all with the knowledge that you’ll be there supporting them no matter what, students will develop confidence, the battery pack that will keep their brain juiced to make the big decisions.

CC Image courtesy Julia Manzerova on Flickr.

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…  Read More