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student leadership, student leaders, developing student leaders

Why Your Student Leaders Aren’t Actually Leading

By Doug Franklin March 22, 2017

Recently, I was visiting a youth ministry with a large student leadership team. The student leadership program looked awesome: there were over 20 student leaders managing several different teams (service teams, ministry teams, and others) with two students overseeing them all. It was impressive, almost like watching an assembly line on the show “How It’s Made.” Students were busy in meetings and planning sessions, making charts and casting vision.

But it was all for show. The students’ busyness looked exciting, but ultimately, nothing came from it. Balls were dropped, projects were never completed, and adult leaders swooped in to take over when the student leaders came up short.

I asked the youth worker how this student leadership team got started. What was its purpose? He explained that student leadership was important to him. So he identified all the ministry areas where students could lead and plopped talented students in charge of each area. I asked what kind of leadership training the students had received. His answer was exactly what I’d feared: none. This youth worker believed that a student leadership program meant putting the right students in charge. He was half right. He gave students the experience, but he didn’t balance it with training.

You can fill your student leadership with the best and the brightest—school newspaper editors, quarterbacks, class presidents, first chair violins—but if you don’t equip them, all of that potential will lead to nothing. A balanced student leadership program has both training and experience.

Placing students in leadership roles without training them is like giving kids a soccer ball but never teaching them the rules of the game. Sure, they’ll look active playing with the ball, but are they really playing soccer? Without expectations, rules, or goals, there’s nothing to measure their progress. Your student leadership team may look busy, but you have to ask yourself one simple question: are they really leading?

Student leadership training allows us to evaluate the experience based on the leadership principles learned in training. You’ll be able to see the growth in your students, and they’ll have tangible tools to get things done. Imagine the teachable moments you’ll have from this kind of evaluation.

It all comes back to the question I asked that youth worker: What is the purpose of your student leadership team? If you set up your leadership team just because it seems like a good idea, or because that’s just part of healthy youth ministries, then you’ll probably get the same results as my friend—all show and no substance. But if your vision is to see real growth and deep leadership development, take the time to equip your students for their leadership roles. Train them now so they can get the most of their leadership experience later.

LeaderTreks offers a wide range of student leadership training resources to help your students reach their leadership potential. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try Student Leaders Start Here. Or if you’re looking for something more experiential, check out our Leadership Training Events.

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