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what students actually think about leadership, student leadership, youth ministry

What Students (Actually) Think About Leadership

By Taryn Phiri July 7, 2018

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover that most students aren’t eager to lead.

“If we want to start students in leadership, we’ll first have to understand what holds them back from wanting to lead in the first place.”

As youth workers, we’re more likely to hear things like, “Leadership isn’t for me, “ “I don’t like to talk in front of people,” and “I don’t really care about that.”

When have we ever heard a student ask, “Hey! Can you develop me as a leader?”

Maybe in our dreams….

If we want to start students in leadership, we’ll first have to understand what holds them back from wanting to lead in the first place. Here are Four Misconceptions that most students believe about leadership and Four Truths that may redirect and challenge students’ thinking about leadership.


Misconception #1: Leadership is pointless.

Many students that I meet believe that leadership is pointless. They don’t see leaders having a positive influence or making a positive difference, and they’re quick to assume that their leadership doesn’t have the power to affect change. The first truth to teach students is “Your leadership matters.”


Misconception #2: Leadership is positional.

Students are usually under the impression that you’re not a leader unless you have a title. They see the Football Captain and the Student Council Vice President as leaders. They would describe their Principal and the mayor as leaders. But without a title, they’ll give themselves a free pass on leadership. The second truth to teach students is “You have influence, even if you don’t have a leadership position.” 


Misconception #3: Leadership is a popularity contest.

Most students think that only the popular kids get to be leaders. And based on their life experiences, it’s hard to blame them. It’s easy for a less-than-popular student to think that leadership isn’t an option for them. Here’s where we come in with the third truth to teach students: “You can learn leadership.” We’ve got to help students see that leaders are made, not born.


Misconception #4: Leadership is based on personality

Similarly, students like to think that only the loudest, most extroverted, or best speakers can be leaders. They assume that the only way to lead is to talk up front and tell people what to do. It’s important that we teach students “You are uniquely wired to lead.” Only when a student discovers how their personality, skills, and spiritual gifts can be useful as a leader will they be willing to step up in leadership.

Students have a lot of wrong ideas about leadership, but by introducing some of these key truths and pairing them with relevant experiences, it’s possible to help students reconsider student leadership. Think through a team building game that would show a student that their leadership makes a difference. Give illustrations of leaders who had influence even though they didn’t have a specific role or title. Share your own personal story of how you learned (and are learning) to lead. Or set aside time to take students through a series of leadership assessments. Slowly but surely, you’ll see these four truths replace the four misconceptions.

About the Author

Taryn Phiri

Taryn Phiri grew up in various states across the East Coast and the Midwest, but now she and her husband, Jerry, are happy to call Glendale Heights, IL their home. After studying International Development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, Taryn served at LeaderTreks for many years as a trip leader and training coordinator….  Read More