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5 Ways to Grow Leadership Potential

The subject of leadership fascinates, allures, and sometime repels us in many ways. Some aspire to become great leaders, whatever “great” means. Others shun leadership for all of the pitfalls and heartache toxic leadership may inflict. For all of the research and experienced opinion out there on the subject, it remains fascinatingly complex and simple all at the same time.

Having served in Christian Camps and Conference Centers for over 30 years, I have seen my share of young people growing in their leadership potential. High school students grow to become team leaders. College students arrive having little experience leading groups and leave with a rock-star foundation. In many ways, Camp is an incubator of leadership potential very few places offer. Camps provide a range of fast learning and leading experiences, whether you “feel” ready or not.

Here’s five simple lessons from a “Camp guy” for building leadership potential.

  1. Be an insatiable learner. From the moment you arrive, you are exposed to new information, responsibilities, and people that will challenge you in many ways. Learn about yourself, about others, and about the influence you can have for good. Leadership is influence, so what will your influence be and how will you steward it?
  2. Learn by doing. Leadership principles can be read about in amazing books by authors ranging from Jim Collins to St. Paul. However, leadership is learned in the crucible of doing. Having to step outside yourself for the good of others and the organizational mission, trying, failing, and trying some more is where leadership is truly formed. If you blow it, apologize, learn and move on. Never, never, never give up.
  3. Lead from the front. You are the example. Set the pace. Set the standard and then love to that standard. Set clear expectations for those you are leading. Set ground rules for how to respect other people, things, and responsibilities. Clear is kind.
  4. Lead with love. Learn emotional intelligence, the ability to empathize and perceive those around you. Develop the situational awareness of reading body language, learn to ask open-ended questions, build relationships with those you are leading. In the end, they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  5. Lead by following. The best leaders learn the humility of being learners and being accountable. Be supportive of your leaders, and those you lead will find an example for themselves. Find a mentor who will coach you along the path of growing into your potential. Learn from others.

The best advice I ever received on this topic was to focus on being the right person, not having the position or title – to aspire to be the person of the position rather than the position itself. Too many people wait until they have a position of leadership to begin working on the inner qualities and outward skills necessary to be effective. That’s like learning to drive a car by commuting through rush hour traffic the first day.

The next new leadership assignment may still have an incredible learning curve. You will go further and faster having invested in your potential along the way. In the end, everyone influences others and so the question is, how will we take responsibility for our influence? For the effect of our lives? To the extent that we do, our leadership influence will be life-giving.

-Patrick Patterson, General Manager/C.O.O, Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center

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