Adapted from “Indigenous Leadership Development” by Wayne Gordon in Restoring at-Risk Communities: Doing it Together and Doing it Right, edited by John M. Perkins, pp. 181-193.
Question: How well does your youth leadership development program incorporate these key elements proven effective by one of the country's most successful urban youth leaders?
1. Look fifteen years into the future. Fifteen years is the amount of time it takes to raise up a generation of leaders among urban youth. Leadership training at its most effective is life-on-life discipleship, beginning when the youth are just beginning school and continuing on into adulthood. Start with youth as young as you can, and continue working with them until they become the leaders you want them to be.
2. Never go anywhere alone. Since so much of leadership development happens spontaneously in the everyday happenings of life, take youth with you wherever you go, whatever you are doing--the grocery store, ballgames, going to the bank. Many youth are looking for something to do--use this to your advantage. Spending time with an adult who cares about them can be a life-changing experience for youth.
3. Be available. Be accessible and available to talk to them whenever they want to talk; sometimes the most teachable moments are not the most convenient moments! It is important that youth know that you value them, and are available to them.
4. Expose them to role models. Kids need heroes. They need to see what others have done with their lives in order to get a vision for their own lives. Bring in leaders of all races and ethnic backgrounds to expose your youth to new people and new ideas.
5. Make your family a part of your ministry. Having kids over for dinner or a slumber party exposes youth to a healthy family environment, and communicates strongly to them that you care about them. Dinner table discussion can be a powerful time of discipleship. And not only does it benefit the youth you serve to have them in your home, it benefits your family as they become involved in the ministry--they learn from others, and learn to serve and give to others.
6. Travel with them. Long car rides and cramped, uncomfortable sleeping quarters help develop deeper relationships. Also, many of the youth you are working with would find a long car trip to a neighboring city or ministry a life-changing experience.
7. Love! Love! Love! Kids need to know that you love them--through word and deed. Never pass up an opportunity to really love a kid who probably does not have many loving adults in his or her life.
8. Major on encouragement. The rule of thumb is: for every one word of criticism, offer ten words of encouragement. Most kids know, and are often told, all the things that are wrong with them. Be a safe refuge of encouragement and affirmation. Choose to believe in kids when no one else does. Help them see they are important and significant.
9. Give them responsibility and let them fail. A crucial aspect of leadership development is allowing people to make decisions, and letting them take responsibility for those decisions. Be clear about boundaries, set limits on responsibility and then step back and let go. Youth need the freedom to succeed or fail and learn from the experience.
10. Having an education is not the same as being a leader. Encourage youth who show potential to pursue a college education, but help them understand that education alone does not make a person a leader. Conversely, if someone is not college-educated, that does not disqualify them from leadership. Education or lack thereof should neither qualify nor disqualify someone from leadership.