10 (or 11) Must-have Qualities for a Student Leader
1. Show Up
If your first reaction to reading this was, “Duh!,” then you get it. Sometimes students can think they are qualified to be a student leader because they are popular. This is frustrating. The truth about student leaders is that they serve. You cannot underestimate the value of faithfulness, dedication, and a servant-leader heart. Showing up is the first step to being a student leader. If you aren’t around, it is hard to know if you are invested. Come, serve, and be faithful.
2. Be Confident (But Not Arrogant)
Is there anything more annoying than an arrogant know-it-all? Probably not. On the other hand, it is also frustrating when a student does not walk in the confidence of Christ. At some point every student must move past their nerves and step up into the role God is calling them into. It is OK if you are still struggling with questions, or even if you have struggles with sin. Often the enemy wants you to believe you are not good enough. But you are. You are created in the image of God and can be his hands and feet. Walk in that truth and in the confidence that Christ is enough!
Truth is, I don’t want anyone on my team who isn’t after this. Integrity is who you are behind closed doors—when no one is looking. And part of integrity is simply being authentic with who you are and where you struggle. And integrity is owning up to your mistakes—no matter what. Integrity-filled people understand that it is not about them, but it is about loving God and loving others.
Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
4. Know Your Kryptonite
Every one of us must be aware of what can make us fall. We must realize that there is an enemy who is out to destroy. But we have a Living God who can and has conquered all. Christ in us gives us victory. But we must also be aware of our shortcomings—and set up people and systems to help us succeed in the times where we feel weak. For me, I’ve got a group of other youth pastors I get together with monthly to talk through struggles and temptations to make sure I stay on track. I can’t tell you how helpful this is!
As student leaders, we must take our influence seriously. Voltaire said that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether we are a professional athlete, a parent, or a student we all have influence. Whether we asked for it or not, it is there. We must intentionally think about how to use that influence to help others find the Light.
5. Laugh a Little
Seriously! No, not seriously. You get the point. Relax. Be joyful. Have fun. Don’t be so intense all the time. There’s a time and a place to be serious (for sure!), but it is equally as important to have a good time. That true joy can help you stay sane as well as the others around you.
6. Be Encouraging.
It is such a discouraging world. From the news headlines to people’s attitudes to hallway bullies it can be very dark. We’ve got to encourage every person around us. That includes those above us in leadership—even when we think they are not doing as good a job as we could do.
One of my heroes, Doug Fields, is a youth pastor. He was talking with a lead pastor who was leading a huge church. He was literally reaching hundreds, even thousands, each week. Doug talked to the pastor after the message and said “Man every service kept getting better than the last. Thank you so much, that was so encouraging and challenging!” What’s interesting is that the pastor texted Doug later and said, “Thanks for coming and supporting—your kind words came at the perfect timing. I really needed that!”
Really? HE needed that? But he was supposed to be the confident leader on stage who had done this longer than I’ve even been alive! But he needed to be encouraged.
We all need encouragement. And we need it all the time.
7. Refuse Complacency
Student leaders pursue excellence and reject apathy. Apathy is a chronic problem in our generation. Apathy is where you show a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Peers praise apathy because it makes you look cool, but in reality, apathy is a defense mechanism against disappointment. But we must move past our fears of standing out and be passionate. Of course it is risky, but in order to make a difference, you’re going to need to refuse complacency and apathy. Ghandi said it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
8. Empower Others
As a leader, we must focus on helping others succeed more than on our own success. In fact, I think we need to change the definition of success. Success is not just more followers—it is how those followers are succeeding. Can others move forward without you when you are gone? This is, of course, the opposite of what business school taught me. Business school said that as a leader, I must keep control. But the Kingdom model says that power is not for me and not about me. Instead I want to do everything I can to help others succeed. What’s interesting is that the more you share with others, the more opportunities become available.
So how do we empower others? We start by identifying them and reaching out to them. We must never underestimate the power of an invite. Say something like, “Hey I see a lot of leadership potential in you and I’d really like you to try out __________.” Invitations are affirming. Invitations give a statement that that person is valuable. Invitations cast vision for what could be. And invitations must never be self-seeking, but instead focus on how to help that person grow and succeed. Invite and empower!
9. Be a Follower
You are never the top dog. Ever. There is always someone greater. And if you a follower of Jesus, you know you always have a leader to guide you. This should be comforting! This world doesn’t depend on just you! And if someone is in authority over you, respect it! Don’t undermine it. Followership is a big deal in leadership.
10. Have Vision
Know where you are taking others. Sometimes the best way to get clear vision is to step back and step out for a brief season. What is working well—and what is not? How do we improve? Listen to the trusted voices around you (not just the loud ones). Next, take this vision of where you are going and clearly communicate it. Be sure that in this vision you leave no one behind and that you treat every member of the team as valuable.
11. Protect Your Team
Finally, know that there are wolves out there that are ready to devour. Do not let them! You may need to take the bullet for someone else’s mistakes sometimes. NEVER throw someone on your team under the bus. Ensure the critic that you will fix the problem and then address the issue in private. And don’t be afraid to tell the wolves they have to leave. The team is too important. And so is the vision.
God is with you. Now go be a student leader!
Jonathan Sigmon was guest speaker at the Northeastern Seminary Youth Ministry Summit in February 2014. He is a youth pastor in Chili, N.Y. who loves seeing students develop their unique giftings for Christ and is extremely passionate about the Gospel and raising up student leaders.