youth worker, youth ministry

Teaching Students to Lead

By Doug Franklin April 25, 2013

Students can only learn leadership by doing leadership. They can’t take a class and somehow understand how to lead. Leadership is personal and different for each person. We all lead a little bit differently then each other. We learn leadership by playing the role of a leader. This is what makes leadership development so hard. You have to learn while doing.

So to teach leadership we need to create leadership laboratories, opportunities for students to actually lead while having us nearby to help them process the experiences. This is kind of scary; what happens if something goes wrong? Oh, and it will go wrong. Most youth workers struggle with student leadership development for this reason: you have to let students lead.

So how do we create leadership laboratories that lead to real learning? I like to follow this simple four step formula:

Communicate Expectations

I find that when I am communicating expectations I need to give the “why” or as we say, “the mission.” Students will always lead smarter when they have a purpose or know how their actions will impact the Kingdom. Help students understand how their actions will affect the outcome and give them a purpose to do great things.

Teach by Example

I believe students gain confidence when they have an example to follow. Let them see you lead first, give them a chance to watch you lead before turning over leadership to them. When placing a student in a leadership position, set them up to win. Don’t just give them information; give them hands on instruction with you as their teacher.

Release Students to Perform

Allowing the students to perform without letting them fail too far is the hardest part of developing leaders. Adults are often too quick to fix the problems that students encounter. Adults don’t want anything to go wrong, so they miss the opportunity to teach great leadership lessons.

The truth is students are not doing “well” if they are not working to their potential. Keeping them in their comfort zones will never help them develop into leaders. You can make them happy, but it can’t make them great.

Evaluate the Performance

Evaluation is hard—but what I have found is that students want evaluation. When they are in a new leadership position, evaluation will accelerate their growth. Evaluation will also build trust and allow you to speak truth into their lives. Honest and clear evaluation will drive your relationships with your students to a new depth.

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