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youth ministry, youth worker, leadership development

The Leadership Development Process

By Doug Franklin April 6, 2011

A few years ago I found myself in a 5 foot deep trench waiting for the next load of cement when the thought hit me—my job is not to pour a foundation, but to develop leaders. The team of students I was working with was working hard. The task in front of them was monumental; it required them to make a load of cement every 2 and a half minutes for seven hours to complete the foundation of a new children’s home in the DR. (A load of cement consists of 35 shovels full of gravel, 20 shovels full of sand, 5 gallons of water and one 90lb bag of concrete mix. These ingredients are all thrown into a mixer and delivered by wheel barrel.) Nothing develops teamwork like a day with the mixer.

My assigned job was to work each load into the trench, level the concrete on a 2 foot stake and smooth the surface. I quickly realized that I had the job of the expert. I didn’t want the job “the adult” should be in, I wanted a student in that role. I called over the student leader in charge of the work site and told him that as soon as we reached the first corner in the foundation, he was putting on the boots and taking my role. I also told him that by the end of the day he would need to train two other students to fill this role. The first look on his face was surprise, but the second was excitement. I think the surprise came from the fact that he would be training two others to fill a role he did not know himself. The excitement came from the fact that he would be in the thick of it. I assured Matt that there would be a process to his new position.

This is the process I laid out for Matt; it is the same process I use every time I am working to develop a student leader.

Communicate Expectations

I explained to Matt that the goal was excellence because the foundation would determine the strength of the home. I communicated that if the foundation was level, then the whole house would be level. I convinced him that to have a great building we needed a great foundation. I then began to communicate the details. Cement to the top of the stakes, smooth finish, watch the loads, keep the cement off your skin. Through words I attempted to communicate the importance and desired outcome that I saw in this role.

I find that when I am communicating expectations I need to give the “why” or as we say, “the mission.” Students will always work harder when they have a good reason or know how their actions will help the kingdom grow. Help students understand how their actions affect the outcome and give them a good reason to do great things.

Teach by Example
As the next loads were delivered, I showed Matt what I was doing, what I had learned and the mistakes I had already made. I got into the details of how to hold my tools, where to have the concrete unloaded and how to ensure the concrete was level. I encouraged him to ask questions and share his thoughts and concerns.

I believe students gain confidence when they have an example to follow. 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 Lead
As soon as we hit the corner, I was out of the trench and Matt was in. I waited for the first load to come and gave some instruction as necessary. Once the first load was in the trench, I was off to the mixing area to help with shoveling. I could see from where I was that Matt was struggling through some tough loads. But, I stayed where I was and let him work through the process.

Releasing the students to perform without letting them fail 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.

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 would yell “you’re doing good, don’t worry.” The truth is that students are not doing good 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.

I believe students have to work through difficulties if they are to become leaders. The lessons Matt learned in his failures made him a great teacher when the time came to repeat the process with another student.

Evaluate the Performance
After about 30 minutes I headed back to see how Matt was doing. The first few minutes of failure had led to success and he had developed a system that was working. He realized he couldn’t do it on his own and he was getting help from other students. The work looked good, so I give him some minor points and I reminded him of our deal–before too long he would need to teach two other students his role.

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