Becoming a leader doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long view and long road. It starts when we’re young.
As I look back on my journey in faith and leadership, I’m finding a consistent theme: investment. I wrote a bit about it in an earlier post.
Take An Interest
During my junior high years, high school senior Chris Spink modeled the Christian life while playing basketball with me and taking me out for ice cream in his orange Chevy Nova. He was in high school. I was in junior high. I don’t know why he did it, but he spent time with me. He’d come over to my house, and we’d play basketball on my gravel driveway with a plywood hoop attached to a tree. Those investments over time made a difference in my formation as a young man. I don’t remember what we talked about. I just know that he spent time with me and I felt valued. As I look back, I realize Chris taught me was that I could be a Christian, athlete and leader without compromising my integrity.
Belong to a Community
I was immersed in a leadership development culture at my local church. The Northgate Free Methodist Church had Bible quizzing, a healthy youth group and regional activities that were huge factors in my formation. Charlie and Linda Cannon were the leaders of Bible quizzing, an activity that taught me to value the Bible and understand that it is a living book. Sebastian and Mary Jane Prospero were volunteer youth leaders who invested in me as a young adult. I remember their consistency and their genuine care of a group of people who were not really lovable. What I learned from them was perseverance and patience pay off in the long-term.
At 15, I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic on a short-term mission trip, which was transformational. There were 22 students on the trip. I was the youngest. That trip gave me a worldview beyond myself as well as the opportunity to be with older, more mature students. I remember having so many ideas of missions and how I was going to change the world.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to a church there. It was a makeshift building – “building” would be a stretch. People arrived in their best clothes, and we had church. I remember the switch that gets flipped when I think I’m going to help “those people,” and then I take note that the poor have something I don’t have at home. Leaders, who cared about students getting a bigger vision for their lives and older students taking younger students under their wings, had a huge impact on my life.
After high school, I chose to attend a faith-based college to study. Spring Arbor University not only provided me an amazing education, but it gave me many leadership opportunities. One summer I worked with an inner-city ministry in the community. In my discipline, communication, I had many opportunities to develop and lead. Dr. Thomas Ball and Dr. Wally Metts were leaders who allowed me to try new things and innovate. I learned from them the value of failure and perseverance.
My sophomore year, campus Chaplain Ron Kopicko received a call from a local church asking for a student to lead a youth group. Telling me he saw fruitfulness in my life, he sent me. It was from that point that I began thinking about leadership in local churches. This blossomed into 10 years of servant leadership in four churches. As I look back, I realize I had been blessed with several key seasons of investment and many people helping me through several seasons by the time I was 22.
It’s partially true we are the sum of our experiences. I never saw myself in any leadership role until I had older, wiser people who noticed something and breathed that vision into me. I didn’t have lots of qualifications, pedigree or resources. My parents and a great community, church and college provided people in my young years to walk alongside me and see something I couldn’t see in myself. The bottom line is that there’s no microwave leadership model. It’s a long view. I couldn’t have seen it then. I can see it now.
I don’t know about you, but these days I don’t have a lot of bandwidth. My calendar is already planned 12-18 months out. However, as I was writing a brief column for our magazine this month, I was struck by a key:
Developing young leaders needs to be part of my DNA. I have to find space to invest.
It’s like higher education developing an endowment. You don’t see much at the beginning, but it pays off long-term. My friend Chad Cole is a Kids Hope USA mentor. He meets with a boy once a week for an hour. He’s in year two, and if you asked him how it’s going, he’d say it’s hard. But you never know if 30 years from now, that boy writes about a dude who came to his school and loved him when he was harder to love.
I have a teen daughter who is amazing. I can continue to invest in her as an emerging leader. I have a staff of people who work with me. I can invest in them to see them grow and make deeper contributions in the world.
My point is that by the time we’re older, we’re less apt to be coachable. As leaders, we have people under us we can influence and invest in. It should be part of our job descriptions. The tricky part is that we probably won’t see short-term benefits from it. But in leadership, sometimes it’s the long view that matters most.
What ideas do you have for developing young leaders? Do you have any systems, rhythms or ideas to share with the community? Whether you’re involved in the corporate or nonprofit sectors or work with volunteers or students, share your best ideas or stories here. If you want, you can check out some additional articles on developing young leaders here: http://llcomm.org/llm/november-2013/