By Melissa Zulch
As a young leader it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and out of place. I know this because I myself am a young leader!
I have been a leader in many things throughout my life, from captaining a netball team, to leading a life group, through to supervising departments in my work place. Throughout my leadership journey I have found myself asking questions like “what am I doing?”, “how did I get here?” or “do I have what it takes?”.
I don’t have all the answers, but I thought I’d share with you a few things I’ve learnt: from one young leader to another.
You’re young, so what?
Being young I’ve often felt like I don’t have enough knowledge, experience, or self-awareness. Sometimes I don’t even feel like a leader! I’m sure you’ve felt the same. Sometimes the inadequacy we feel might even come from others who lack confidence in us.
John Maxwell once said “leadership is influence”. I believe we all are influencing something or someone. 1 Timothy 4:12 says: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
I know this is probably the most quoted scripture for young leaders, but I think it’s quoted often because it’s really encouraging! You can still be a leader when you are young, because you can influence and be an example for others.
Chances are if you’re in leadership, God has given you the gift of leadership. Paul continues in verse fourteen to say “do not neglect your gift”. Leadership is a gift! God has created and called you to be a leader, so like Paul said to Timothy, don’t neglect it because you think you aren’t old enough, wise enough, or have enough experience. God can (and will) use you, a young leader, when you are confident and courageous enough to step out into leadership, and have a massive impact for his Kingdom.
Every leader has to start somewhere
There are many stories in the Bible of people who started their leadership journey as young and inexperienced and ended up being some of the greatest leaders in history. Take David for example. We’re first introduced to David in 1 Samuel 16, the youngest son in his family, and a shepherd at the time. If you read his story you’ll see in 2 Samuel 2 that David is eventually anointed King of Judah. David had a crazy awesome leadership journey! He was a great king who led thousands of people, but he literally started his leadership journey leading sheep. There are many more stories like this in scripture: Moses, Joseph, Nehemiah, Joshua, Paul and Jesus (the greatest leader you’ll ever know).
Right now you might be at the leading sheep stage of your leadership journey, like David. Maybe you’re flipping burgers, playing in a sports team, leading a life group or simply turning up to work each day. That’s awesome! Just like David’s story (1 Samuel 17:34-36), the experience and things you learn in these places are going to impact your leadership journey more than you could imagine.
I think sometimes in our social media driven world we can get caught up in wanting to be the next Craig Groeschel, Steve Jobs, or Michelle Obama. Whilst these guys are phenomenal leaders, they too had to start their leadership journey somewhere. Whatever stage you are at in the leadership journey, be the best leader you can be! And don’t forget to enjoy the adventure; your leadership journey will be fun, wild, exciting, rewarding and fulfilling every step of the way.
Learn from those leaders who have gone before you
All great leaders were once young and inexperienced, but they had people invest in them, mentor them and help them grow into the leaders they are today. Leaders need to be teachable and learn from those who have gone before them. Even Jesus did this! Luke 2:41-47 tells us a story of 12-year-old Jesus who stayed in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to his parents while they began their trip home. When His parents returned to look for Jesus, they found him “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions”. As young leaders, we should do the same.
There are so many ways we can do this! Find a leader who is at the next stage of leadership or a leader who you admire and who has leadership qualities that you want to develop. Seek out resources to challenge you and grow you. Look for opportunities to lead, and look for opportunities to learn from those who have gone before you. No one expects you to become a great leader on your own and out of nowhere, we’re all in this together, and being teachable is such an important characteristic to have as a leader.
When you do have those overwhelming, ‘out of your depth’ moments (because we all do), pause, and remember that being young does not disqualify you. Instead of being overwhelmed, or even writing yourself off, ask God for the power to be the best leader you can be, no matter where or whom you’re leading. Find a mentor, take those opportunities, and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before on this fun, wild, rewarding, and fulfilling journey of leadership and influence.