3 Keys to Leading When You're Young and Inexperienced

A few years ago, a new LeaderTreks staff member told me he liked our current programs, but he wondered when he would be able to create his own. He had countless ideas of how to improve and revolutionize our programming. I should probably mention something—he had been with LeaderTreks for one week.

Have you noticed that many 20-somethings want to change the world, but lack significant, long-term experience? Maybe you are a 20-something and you’re thinking, What’s wrong with having high aspirations? Nothing! It’s only natural to want to maximize your influence and potential. I love your confidence, but it takes more than ambition to be an influential leader. It also takes humility. So step in the shoes of your more experienced superiors and take a look at things from their perspective. How can you use your confidence to engage people without turning them off?

1. Honor the Past

You must realize that older generations value experience and time served. Many feel like they earned their positions through hard work and patience. By demanding more responsibility without putting in the time, you’re throwing what they value back in their faces. Try to respect and acknowledge the way they reached their positions of leadership.

Yet experience doesn’t prepare you for everything. Many 20-somethings have a huge advantage in ministry because they understand new technology and value leadership. Twenty-five years ago, we understood leadership to be a position or title. Today leadership means making change happen. So what’s more important to you: the title on your door or the ability to influence your environment for the better? Empathize with the older crowd and help them understand the new technology. Make yourself into a bridge between the past and the present. Prove that you’re a leader by equipping others (yes, even your superiors).

2. Take Advantage of Now

You have responsibilities in your current position, even if they aren’t flashy. Bring creativity and new energy to your job. There’s no such thing as wasted time or a worthless opportunity. If you can make lemonade out of lemons in less glamorous roles, it won’t take long for people to see your ideas and give you more opportunities to influence.

You never know how God will use you right where you are. Think about how he works in the world: He made a lowly shepherd into a great king. He used a prostitute to help the Israelites capture the city of Jericho. He took a small amount of bread and fish and used it to feed an enormous crowd. And he sent his Son as a tiny infant, as a suffering servant to save the world from sin and death. Your position may not be everything you hoped it would be, but that doesn’t mean God can’t do amazing things through you. So do your best to honor God in your work, exactly where you are now.

3. Be Humble

Most good leaders are thrilled that younger employees are excited to innovate, to experiment, to lead. Your enthusiasm is exactly the kind of energy that fuels a successful ministry. That new perspective is a refreshing counterbalance to keep us from sinking into a rut. But a multifaceted leader must also be willing to learn, and that takes time.

A professional magazine editor I know receives article submissions every day from hopeful writers. This turns up a few hidden gems, but most writers receive a short but polite “no thank you” email. The most disappointing of these failed submissions are those with impeccable grammar and interesting content that simply don’t fit my friend’s publication. Maybe the article is too technical for popular readership. Or perhaps it is on a topic that the magazine already covered. So my friend asks these writers a simple question: “Have you ever read our magazine?” Nine times out of 10, the answer is “No.”

If these eager writers had taken the time to invest in and absorb the magazine they wanted to be published in, to learn its voice, its audience, its recent articles, they wouldn’t have wasted the editor’s time or their own. All of the talent, enthusiasm and dedication in the world are worthless if they’re aimed in the wrong direction. That’s the benefit of experience. It lets you absorb those intangible things—like a ministry’s culture, priorities, strengths and weaknesses—that can’t easily be explained by a trainer or learned from a book. Are you so eager to lead that you’re willing to forgo this essential learning time and make yourself (and those relying on you) vulnerable to catastrophic mistakes that could have been avoided if you were more familiar with the ministry?

More often than not, a person who is only concerned about moving up, up, up cares more about their own platform than the ministry as a whole. Pride says, “I know what’s best even though I haven’t taken the time to truly invest in a ministry.” Humility says, “Just because I’m not seeing huge impact doesn’t mean this growing and learning time isn’t valuable. And even when I am eventually making major decisions, I’ll still need to remain open to learning from those who can help, because that’s what is best for the ministry.”  

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Doug Franklin
My name is Doug Franklin and I serve youth workers through a ministry called LeaderTreks. I love youth ministry and the people who serve in it. I work with an incredible team creating tools and resources enabling youth workers to develop students into leaders. I want to influence youth workers to challenge students and prepare them for leadership in the kingdom of God.

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