You have already been placed in a variety of leadership positions, whether you’re aware of it or not. You may think of leadership as something you gain when you’ve developed a stable career. But, you actually learn skills of a good leader in the classroom – through group projects, partnerships in daily interaction and positions placed upon you in extracurricular activities. Plus, leaders heavily influence your life: teachers, counselors, administration, parents, pastors, coaches, mentors, etc. Their impact plays a significant part in how you view and understand the position of a quality leader.
As a leader, it’s imperative to provide a compelling vision that inspires those around you. A sign of a good leader is someone who’s willing to think beyond the obvious, take risks and trust that the result of the risk will produce a learning experience. This openness allows the leader to foster a welcoming environment of creativity, inclusion and openness.
Instead, many people in leadership roles lapse into automatic and mindless thinking – focusing only on themselves and their view of how to best move things forward. These types of leaders don’t tend to come up with imaginative solutions because they let themselves be ruled by routine and preconceived notions. It’s common for leaders to think they know ahead of time what will and won’t work. This can make them quick to dismiss ideas that sound too abstract, closing off the opportunity for someone else to speak openly about his or her suggestions.
Habits formulated while you’re young can actually become a trap when placed in leadership positions. So consider practicing some of the following behaviors to help you develop the strong mindset of a leader. Learn whether or not you have what it takes to be a quality leader by taking opportunities now to be placed in a leadership role. If you learn that God created you as a solid leader, then keep pursuing opportunities to grow stronger in this skill. If you don’t feel like leadership roles are really for you, then take these lessons to heart. Don’t consider yourself a failure, but trust that God is revealing more about who He made you to be.
Formulate powerful questions.
Generating ideas starts with asking the right questions and the best questions are those that are thought-provoking. They challenge underlying assumptions and invite creativity. They also create energy, which produces an awareness of the fact that there’s something to explore that hasn’t been fully grasped. Train yourself to catch poorly designed questions, asked by you or someone else, and reformulate them. Questions that begin with “why,” “what” and “how” are best because they require more thoughtful responses than those that begin with “who,” “when,” “where” and “which.” (These openers often lead to a one word or one sentence answer that can be pretty straightforward, and sometimes predictable.) Especially avoid questions that can be answered with a single “yes” or “no.”
Expand your sphere of influence.
You’re strongly influenced, for better or worse, by the small group of people you have direct contact with on a regular basis. Since we tend to hang out with people who are fairly similar to ourselves, chances are we’re limiting our perspectives. Make a deliberate effort to encounter people and ideas that are profoundly different from the usual suspects you hang out with. Take a new elective class that you never considered exploring, hang out with a new group at school, join a new club or buy a magazine randomly off the shelf.
Break your patterns.
You can increase your chances of seeing things differently if you deliberately break your normal pattern of working, communicating, thinking, reacting and responding. Take a different route between classes. Change where you sit in class. Have lunch outside rather than in the cafeteria. If you’re normally the first to volunteer, hold back; if you’re rather reserved, then step forward.
Learn to listen.
You’ve been taught the importance of being a good listener. The problem is that you struggle to actually do it. Often when you’re “listening,” you’re really waiting for the first opportunity to share your story, opinion or experience. Or, you’re just simply distracted by other things that may seem more interesting or relevant at that moment (which what is more important than listening to a fellow human being that deserves your respect?) Train yourself to engage in three conversations a week where you’re purely listening. The conversation doesn’t need to be longer than 5 to 15 minutes, they can be formal or informal, and the other person doesn’t need to know what you’re doing. Vow that you won’t try to take over the conversation no matter how much you want to, and vow that you won’t look at your phone, the TV, the time or whatever else is trying to pull away your attention. Just keep asking questions and don’t dismiss anything the other person says. Consider having a standard list of questions to inquire so you don’t find yourself talking about the weather. After the conversation, reflect on what you learned. Don’t dismiss any ideas or views that don’t align with yours. Dare to challenge your own assumptions and reframe your beliefs if need be.
Some of these practices may take you outside your comfort zones, and you might not be ready to try all of these at once. But if you start to put them into play, with repetition and perseverance, then you’ll be able to grow into a more mindful, visionary leader one step at a time. As a young leader, you can be a force that influences your school, community, even the entire world toward great change. Learn what it takes to be an effective leader now, so you have your whole life to make a mindful impact.
Scripture provides a detailed description of the qualifications for a leader. Technically, these qualities are for people who lead the church, but this definition can provide incredible insight into what it takes to be an effective leader in the world.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to her husband, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. She must manage her own family well and see that her children obey her, and she must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage her own family, how can she take care of God’s church?) She must not be a recent convert, or she may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. She must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that she will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1 Timothy 3: 1-7