Here’s a little exercise: think back to your teen years. Remember how hard it could be to stand on your own?
Do you remember times you were a follower and times you were a leader? And did you lead well?
Do you think that teens in your time had an easier time leading than teens do today? Did you have a handle on leadership principles to apply to your own life situations? Were you taught these by your parents or adult youth leaders?
While it has always been important for parents to not only encourage, but teach, leadership principles to their teens, we are living in a time where leadership is lacking. Could this lead your teen to dangerous situations, behavior, and activities?
As Christian parents, we all likely have the desire to raise a leader. Teaching effective and practical leadership principles now can go along way in ensuring our teens will be effective leaders both today and well into their futures.
In addition to wise and safe choices, our teens need to live by strong leadership principles as they enter the adult world. How will they fare when they are off at college? How will they handle employment? Will they serve as a leader in the community, family, and government?
But we live in a “live and let live” culture today.
As I listen to teens and young adults, including Christian teens (sometimes my own Christian teen), I can hear evidence of this mindset seeping in. This is an insidious assault on the biblical worldview God has set forth for us.
First of all, let’s define leadership. According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, a leader is “1. One that leads or conducts; a guide; a conductor. 2. A chief; a commander; a captain. 3. One who goes first.
Being a leader is a tall order. Often teens believe being a leader is just telling others what to do. But effective leadership goes far beyond being the boss (many bosses are NOT effective leaders, as most adults can attest to). So when sorting out what exactly makes a good leader, consider these 10 traits of an effective leader:
- practices self-government (1 Timothy 3:2)
- communicates effectively (Proverbs 25:11
- practices humility (Philippians 2:3-4)
- builds healthy relationships (Matthew 7:12)
- has a clear vision (Proverbs 29:18)
- sets goals, and achieves them (Colossians 3:23-24
- empowers others, promotes teamwork (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
- humble, recognizes their limitations (Isaiah 55:8-9)
- sets the example (Hebrews 13:7)
- is a lifelong learner (Proverbs 22:29)
Ultimately, people will choose those whom they wish to follow. How will they do that? They will judge the character, behavior, attitude, and actions of the person they are considering following.
This comes naturally to many, but if this is not true for your teen, take heart; leadership skills can be learned, especially when based on clear biblical principles.
Let’s talk a little more about what leadership principles will enable him to do just that.
Practical Leadership Principles for Teens
Accepting God as the absolute authority is the first practical principle of being a leader. Once this is established in an individual’s mind and heart, everything is measured against God’s word. And that right there is the key. Because as Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 (NASB).
It is imperative that parents teach this biblical principle to their children, and continue reinforcing it to their teens. Everything must be pointed back to God’s Word.
Knowing When to Follow
Knowing who to follow and how to follow may be tricky at times. Especially when the culture tries to make some areas gray. Ultimately, your teen can identify when and who to follow by measuring a leader by God’s principles of leadership. Additionally, your teen can look at the leadership of Christ Jesus in the context of the setting being read. This goes back to the first principle. Not only does your teen need to continue taking every decision back to the Word of God, he needs to be sure anyone he is following does the same.
What Does it Mean to Follow
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary has several definitions for the word follow. But let’s focus on these few here: “1. To go after or behind; to walk, ride or move behind, but in the same direction. Soldiers will usually follow a brave officer. 3. To accompany; to attend in a journey. 15. To adhere to; to honor; to worship; to serve.”
When and Who Not to Follow
Certainly, there are times not to follow. For example, Galatians 5:19-21 teaches us about matters of the flesh:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (KJV)
Not to mention the Ten Commandments as a standard . . .
For instance, does your teen have this “live and let live” mentality about friends or acquaintances who walk in the flesh? If so, do you want your teen to accompany or attend such a journey with companions? Remember: Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals. 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NASB).
Clearly, from Scripture, people that practice walking in the flesh are individuals who we are not to follow. Now, I’m not talking about finding perfect people. Because none of us are perfect. But we know that being covered by God’s grace by faith through Jesus Christ is not an excuse to sin.
Therefore, if it goes against God’s instructions it’s time to decide not to accompany or follow. Again: But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 (NASB).
How Not to Follow
Let them alone. If the truth is spoken in love to friends but they still decide to make sin a practice, then it’s time to leave them alone. There’s a principle of leaving people alone who aren’t walking in God’s ways.
Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit. Matthew 5:14 (NASB).
But be sure to pray for them.
When and How to Lead
When seeing darkness
If you’ve been sowing God’s Word into your teen’s heart, they can recognize darkness. Once your teen realizes something dark is being done, they need to know that they need to take a stand. And they do this by exposing the darkness. “… but instead even expose them;” Ephesians 5:11b (NASB).
To expose darkness, your teen needs to feel it’s safe to come to you. They aren’t adults yet. They still need our protection.
Don’t participate in darkness
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness…;” Ephesians 5:11a (NASB).
To your teen, it may feel like he or she is abandoning people. And they may question how they’ll reach people practicing sin if they separate themselves. In fact, this is a very point of resistance to leadership.
As adults, we have the benefit of not caring what people think. Teens don’t have that luxury. Regardless of their moral certitude, they are still concerned who how they are perceived. They want to be liked and accepted. Often to a teen this means liking and accepting others. They might feel a conflict with the teaching of “do unto others.” They will need our encouragement to take a stand.
Teens need to know it’s okay to speak the truth in love. But if after speaking the truth in love the person continues in sin, your teen (if claiming Christ) is now called to lead.
He or she is respectfully showing what it means to follow Christ and God’s instructions for life. So, it’s important to help your teen re-frame his or her thinking on this.
Leadership Principles for Teens Resources
Leadership Principles Training
There are many facets to training for leadership. For example, learning how to communicate effectively is one way. Another way is to practice self-governance. To help equip your teen for leadership, you may like to check out some of these ideas:
- Debate Classes. If you have a club near you, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association is an excellent and affordable resource for Christian families. Through speech and debate, NCFCA equips homeschool high school students to think critically and communicate effectively through training and competition.
- TeenPact Leadership Classes. These civil leadership classes are amazing and they help teens understand the legislative process. And from a Biblical worldview, they learn how to separate themselves from counter-Biblical bills and laws by going through the legislative process. These classes are held every year state-wide. And you can visit TeenPact’s website to learn more.
- YWAM. Youth With a Mission has a commitment to leadership training with the goal of knowing God and to make Him known. YWAM focuses on three major categories: Evangelism, Training, and Mercy Ministries.
- Teachers for the Nations Training a Generation of World Changes. At the YWAM in Tyler, Texas, their goal is to disciple nations through education. To be clear, this training equips this generation with an understanding of God’s character and nature and the Biblical principles of education and government.
- Cadet programs. If there’s anything that can help teach self-governance through experience, it’s cadet programs. Ben currently participates in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. But there are other cadet programs you can look into for your teen, such as Civil Air Patrol and Young Marines. These programs are not only beneficial for those who are considering a military career, but for any teen seeking opportunities for leadership.
Leadership for Teens Book List
The following books are ones that we have included in Ben’s high school book list for the purpose of exposing leadership principles. As per usual, you may want to pre-read or read along with your teen for the purpose of discussion and deciding if the content is appropriate for your family.
Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age by David Platt
Welcome to the front lines. Everywhere we turn, battle lines are being drawn―traditional marriage vs. gay marriage, pro-life vs. pro-choice, personal freedom vs. governmental protection. Seemingly overnight, culture has shifted to the point where right and wrong are no longer measured by universal truth but by popular opinion. And as difficult conversations about homosexuality, abortion, and religious liberty continue to inject themselves into our workplaces, our churches, our schools, and our homes, Christians everywhere are asking the same question: How are we supposed to respond to all this?
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
n boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943.
The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters by Dr. Albert Mohler
Cultures and organizations do not change without strong leadership. While many leadership books focus on management or administration, the central focus of The Conviction to Lead is on changing minds.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of Presidents and CEOs, educators and parents— in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations.
Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris
Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility, the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life. Then they map out five powerful ways teens can respond for personal and social change.
Leadership for Teens TED Talks
Inspiring talks about leadership that teens will enjoy and want to hear over and over again.
Listen, Learn . . . then Lead
Four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military. How can you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets? By listening and learning — and addressing the possibility of failure.
We have all changed someone’s life — usually without even realizing it. In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives.
How Great Leaders Inspire Action
Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.
How to Speak So People Want to Listen
Have you ever felt like you’re talking, but nobody is listening? Here’s Julian Treasure to help. In this useful talk, the sound expert demonstrates the how-to’s of powerful speaking — from some handy vocal exercises to tips on how to speak with empathy. A talk that might help the world sound more beautiful.
Speak Like a Leader
Did you know there is a secret language of leadership that determines who reaches the top in politics and business?
In this fast-paced and frequently funny TEDx talk, top speechwriter, Simon Lancaster, sets out the techniques that you can use to speak like a leader. The talk culminates in Simon Lancaster instantly improvising a powerful leadership speech based on an idea suggested by the audience.
Setting the Example
As Christian parents, we hope that our children will stand strong in the face temptation. And we hope that they’ll stand on the principles of God’s word. Therefore, we need to make sure we also teach leadership principles by our examples of when and how to both follow and lead.