Doug Franklin is one of the leading voices on empowering teenagers to lead in their churches and in their communities. He founded LeaderTreks, an organization designed to help youth workers develop these kinds of students. We were able to sit down and have a great discussion about this with him recently, so enjoy.

What are the top 3 things student leaders should learn in their first year?
I love this question and I get it a lot. We often get overwhelmed when thinking about all the things we want to teach student leaders, but focusing on just a few at a time is a great tactic. I always want students to know three things before anything else when it comes to Christian leadership: how they are wired and gifted, how to balance character and skills, and how to maintain an equal value for tasks and relationships.

When a student knows who they are, it impacts their leadership so much. When they know how God created them, what skills he gave them, and how he hard wired talents into them, students understand the deep love and purpose God has for them. And when students understand how he has gifted them through the Holy Spirit, it becomes a game changer.

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The second thing I want students to know is that leadership is a balancing act. Leaders need to have solid character, grounded in scripture. When we seek to maintain a heart after God, we can lead well. But leadership is also a set of skills that we must hone, continually pushing ourselves to grow and improve.
Finally, I want every student to understand how to maintain an equal value for tasks and relationships. God has given us a mission and that mission is people, but it often involves us completing specific tasks. We need to know how to care for our teammates and followers, and how to get the job done that is in front of us.

Awesome. What is often overlooked, maybe a common mistake, when working with student leaders?
Honestly, we don’t let them struggle enough in the process of leading. Too often we save them from failure and then instead of learning to lead, they learn to be dependent on adults to save them. I’ve seen it time and time again. When we jump in and prevent students from experiencing failure, it robs them of truly learning how to lead. Leadership is not easy and students need to know that fact.
Tell us about one if your biggest failures when working with student leaders?
My biggest failure? Well, I would say it’s something I’ve done more than once, but I keep learning from it. One of the things I’ve failed at, and I think many others have as well, is knowing how to challenge students. We should challenge students to reach for more, but we don’t want to challenge them too much too quickly. When you’re teaching your child to swim you don’t throw them into the deep end and walk away. A good rule to follow when it comes to challenge is to push students 10% out of their comfort zone. Challenge is best when it’s done in small steps. However, this requires us to know our students well, because challenge looks differently for every student. What works for one student could make the next student shut down completely. In order to effectively challenge students we must be in relationship with them. Where there is no trust, no challenge can take place.

Very cool! In our setting we talk about setting different “bars” for different students instead of assuming every teenager is ready to reach for the same bar. But man, that takes work. What would you tell the youth worker who is thinking about starting a student leadership program but hasn’t jumped in yet?
To think first about whether or not a team is best for your group. Sometimes the team is the best way to go; sometimes having adults mentor students in leadership is better. It really all depends on the nature of your ministry. There are advantages and disadvantages of having a leadership team. Determine what is best for your ministry. After all, there are more ways to develop student leaders than just teams.

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What is your favorite resource/tools/Web sites/whatever to put in student leaders’ hands?
I’d have to say Student Leaders Start Here. It looks at the three things every student should know that I discussed in your first question: helping students discover how they are wired and gifted, the balance of character and skills, and the importance of maintaining an equal value for tasks and relationships. What I love about the book though is that it is interactive, with assessments and activities littered throughout it. This makes the experience different for every student, because it’s a customized resource based on their individual leadership. And obviously 99 Thoughts For Student Leaders from Simply Youth Ministry is a great way to go too. Just thought I’d throw that one in there.

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