Possessing, Modeling, and Empowering: Three Keys to Leading Well

Hands team

Recently, I drove and staffed our youth mission trip at Camp Barnabas in Missouri. This is a camp ministry for children and adults with special needs and some disabilities (many spectrums of Autism and Down’s Syndrome).  This is a wonderful ministry and for the sake of this article, a great place for young leaders to begin practicing their call as leaders.

Each camper has a teen Missionary (Counselor) assigned to him/her.  Each cabin group has two leaders who are experienced college-aged Missionaries who lead each cabin.  This college-age range is where young leaders really begin to practice their call to be leaders.  As I served in this environment, my role of leadership was quite different than in most of the environments I lead.  Observing the young cabin leaders was an interesting glance back at leadership development.  One leader in particular stood out for me and observing him became the inspiration for what I am writing now.

This process of observation helped me realize that every leader must either possess or model the characteristics of what they expect those under him/her to practice.  If the leader does not possess or cannot model said characteristics, then he/she must empower others with said characteristics to lead under him/her.

My example from the young leader began on the first night.  He reported to the group that he struggled with joy and enthusiasm.  Now, part of camp is this push for what’s called the “JEFF” award.  Each day, the cabin units are to show behaviors modeled after each letter in the acronym “JEFF” – Joy, Enthusiasm, Fun, and Fellowship.  At the end of each day, a cabin unit is chosen that best displays the theme of the day.  The first two days were difficult for our young leader as he wasn’t quite sure how to draw out of our cabin the qualities of joy and enthusiasm.  This example helped me realize that a leader cannot expect out of followers what he does not possess himself, cannot model, or will not empower others to lead around these expectations.  I will dive into each one of these using our young leader as an example along the way.

  • Possessing – Our young leader expected Joy and Enthusiasm out of his followers…yet he did not possess abilities or gifts in this area.  As a leader, if I expect hard work out of those I lead, then I need to have a quality of being a hard worker.  I need to exhibit the behavior of hard work.  We can plug in any kind of characteristic or expectation or behavior.  In order to lead, we as leaders must possess what we ask our followers to take part in.

  • Modeling – If I do not possess this characteristic, gift, or talent, then I need to at least model what I expect.  Reading a book on inner power years ago, I learned that I can model the behavior and practices of those who might be more gifted than me.  The Author’s example was Michael Jordan, quite possibly the greatest professional basketball player ever.  You see, I am not as gifted and talented as Michael Jordan.  But If I model the way he plays basketball, I will become a better basketball player.  Likely, never at his level, but I will become better.   A potential trap here is to approach this in a “Fake it until you make it…” sort of way.  That would be unauthentic and my followers would see through this method.  The approach here for me is to model the behavior I want to improve.  As I model this behavior, it begins to become a new area where I can lead.  It truly becomes part of me.  Our Young leader was unable to model the behavior he desired the group to have and thus, the JEFF award became elusive.

  • Empowering others – If I do not possess the gift or characteristic and I have trouble modeling the behavior authentically or altogether, then I must empower others with this “giftedness” to lead in this area.  This feels dangerous both to the young leader and the insecure leader.  This can feel like the giving away of power and leadership ability.  This can be counter-intuitive to the new leader.  Yet, this is how a good leader leads.  He is aware of where he is lacking and allows others to use their giftedness to the fullest.  And, if a leader does not possess or model and then does not empower, then, many times, someone will empower themselves.  This might work out well or it may create undesired conflict that can damage the leader’s credibility and power as leader.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell writes about the “Law of the Lid”.  Basically this refers to if a leader is an 8 in his leadership on a scale from 1-10, then his followers will perform no better than an 8.  This idea of possessing, modeling, and empowering fits within this law.

In no way do I want to come across as if I did not believe in the leadership potential of this young leader.  The Missionaries looked up to him, followed him and thought a lot about him as a person and a leader.  He is in his early stages of leading.  For me, watching from a distance, I was able to gain some perspective on both his leadership and mine.  It is good to go back to some basics as I continue to dive deeper in my leadership.  It is a great reminder for me that when I step into my expectations of those I lead my question to myself is, “Am I possessing, modeling, or empowering?”

How about you?  What is your lid?  When you lead and have expectations, do you possess those characteristics?  Or, are you modeling those characteristics?  Or, are empowering those around you so that your followers can meet expectations?

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