Picking Student Leaders Is Easy

By Doug Franklin April 15, 2014

Youth workers ask me all the time, “What is the best way to pick student leaders?” It’s actually an easy question to answer. Here’s my response: “You shouldn’t pick student leaders.” In fact we need to move away from the idea that some students are leaders and others are not.

Many youth workers start their student leadership development program with students who are “ready” for leadership. But who can define “ready”? Chances are, students with behavioral issues are already leading revolutions in your ministry. You know the students I’m talking about. Their mood sets the tone for the whole group. When they’re unengaged, so are their friends. When they make cynical comments, others join in. They are already leaders—but they’re leading in the wrong direction. Would you ever consider one of these students “ready” for leadership? Yet all it would take is a course direction to turn them around and teach them good leadership values. Their leadership motor is already running; we just have to man the rudder. By ignoring these students, we could miss a great opportunity.

We feel a lot of pressure when it comes to developing leaders, so we shift that pressure to the students by declaring them “ready” for leadership. But most of the time, when we declare students “ready,” they are already showing signs of leadership. Then we look like geniuses for putting them in leadership roles—like picking lottery numbers after the winning combination has already come out.

We need to change our model. Don’t just pick leaders. Teach leadership.

Lets give every student the chance to learn leadership skills. Everyone will benefit from leadership training because we all play the role of a leader at some point in our lives. Jesus challenged us to go into the world and influence for him, to call people to live for him. This work requires trained leaders.

To teach students leadership you need to grow as a leader, too. You can’t disciple someone if you haven’t been discipled. The same is true of leadership development. As soon as you ask someone to mentor you in leadership, you will start to feel comfortable developing someone else.

We can’t keep picking leaders like oranges at the grocery store: “Is this one ripe enough yet?” We end up with students in leadership who are already too busy and over-committed. Instead, lets concentrate on transforming students from non-leaders into leaders. Then you’ll have no shortage of leaders for any given task, and your students will be better prepared for inevitable leadership situations before and after graduation.


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