Relevancy is Opportunity
At a recent meeting with a small group of student leaders preparing to lead a youth conference in November, I was challenged to think about a facet or category of leadership which I had never thought of before: relevancy. I was sitting with a small group of the larger team, three to be exact, discussing the fact that there were potentially three or four other students from different schools joining our leadership team. Being the adult, I figured it was my responsibility to lay out our plan for confirming these potential add-ons. So, without giving it much thought, I explained that we would probably have to email the Odyssey Rep at these two schools with our questions and ask them to track down these potential student leaders at their school, get a final answer from them, and hopefully get back to us before we meet again in a week. Communicating between cities and schools takes a few days, I explained, that’s just the way things work. I was musing along in my explanation when I looked up and saw two of the three students on their phone texting.
Me: “What are you guys up to?”
Student: “I’m texting ‘so-and-so’.”
Me: “Oh! You know these guys?!”
Student: “Of course!”
Me: “So, can you find out if their coming?”
Student: “Yea! He said they just have to check with Ms. So-and-so to confirm and they should know by tomorrow.”
I left that meeting with no follow-up task to contact anyone, no consequential email thread adding to my inbox, not even an additional thought other than to just wait until tomorrow. Sure enough, Monday morning, the adult director of the event found me and confirmed the names and positions of the other leaders that would be coming from the other schools to join our small team.
This was a simple example, but it reminded me of a foundational principle that I still forget when working with students. Effective student development happens when we focus on empowering students not managing them—releasing them, not containing them. More often than not, there are times where
I can better teach a student about leadership by getting out of the way when he or she takes initiative to be an active participant in the decisions that need made and the work that needs done.
But, I must confess, I still struggle relinquishing control to students in some areas, because of my belief that it will be better if I do it myself. It will be better quality, more professional, look neater, and it will be “done right.” But, quality, professionalism, neatness, and systematic processes for getting things done are practically irrelevant terms and methods to students just simply expecting to be involved in an event where they serve, bless, and minister to their peers. So, I think I need some other venue to showcase MY skills!
The other key factor here is that students know the culture of their peers better than I do! They naturally understand the inner-workings of the teenage brain. They have an instant “in” with their peers that I don’t have. They even have instant pathways of communication with each other through Wassup, WeChat, Skype, Instagram, and more, 24/7 via their smart phones and various other tech devices. I think their relevancy gives them opportunity to better connected, and therefore influential, and therefore more capable of leading their peers than me.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to send us your thoughts on student leadership – we’d love to hear them.