What I Learned about Youth Ministry Leadership in the Marine Corps
This conversation got my wheels turning a bit, and I found myself trying to define what made these men's leadership so remarkable.
I was able to condense my thoughts into three points I thought I'd pass along. For those of you who lead youth ministry assistants, interns, and/or adult volunteers. I hope these truths will give you something to think about.
Truth 1: Leaders must equip their people with the tools necessary to be proficient.
In the Marines, I was a team leader of a mortar crew. Time and time again, our platoon commander went out of his way to provide us the tools to do our job with excellence. Sometimes he lobbied for extra rounds so we could train more (mortar rounds are expensive, therefore the tendency skimp on training ammo). Sometimes he arranged space for us on a truck so we didn't have to march with all our gear. Regardless of the circumstance, this leader made sure we had what was necessary not just to do our job at a baseline level, but to excel at what we did. Equipping Marines looks a little different than equipping staff or adult volunteers. (You're probably not out securing high-explosives for your small group teachers. Though your junior high boys would love you forever if you did.) What does equipping look like in your context? Here are a few thoughts:
- Training (Staff)—You need to provide training for your staff. This could be conferences for your team, like CLEAR by YM360. Or if budget is an issue (when is it not?), why not send one team member and have him or her come back and give presentations of what was learned? Honestly, these days, you don't HAVE to actually attend conferences. You can always purchase audio of the seminars once a conference is over.
- Training (Volunteers)—Volunteers need to be trained. After all, many are expert accountants, teachers, mechanics, etc., but may not be expert small group Bible study teachers. It's up to you to equip them with the right training. Quarterly training is a great place to start. Then, maybe you go less or more frequent depending on your volunteer's schedule.
- Research & Youth Culture Stuff—ym360's Trends & Culture Updates are great ways to keep your folks in the loop. CPYU's newsletters are good, too. However you do it, it's a great idea to make sure your people are up to date on youth culture and the most recent studies and research.
- Books—What if you fought for a little budget money to provide books, or e-books to your volunteers and/or staff? There is a wealth of knowledge available to help equip your people to be successful in leading students.
Truth 2: Equip your people. Then get out of the way.
Marines believe in their training. Marines train hard so that when the time comes to make it happen, they are absolutely prepared to get the job done. We had a particularly "colorful" group of guys that made up the three mortar teams in our squad. We were a little rough around the edges, especially by Marine standards. We didn't do things the conventional way. And maybe our uniforms weren't always in the best shape. But, we were really, really good at what we did! We won regimental and battalion level mortar team competitions. (Something I am still proud of after all these years!)
Our leaders could have insisted that we conformed a little tighter to standard operating procedures.
But our platoon sergeant and our platoon commander realized we were performing at a high rate of proficiency. We were trained well. We were motivated. And we got the job done. It is extremely important to have the right people on your team. And it is important to equip them. But once you do, it is vitally important to get the heck out of their way and let them do their job. Micro-managing has no place in the military or in your ministry. Teach your team how you expect the job to be done. Then, allow them to complete the task in accordance with their own personality, giftings, and priorities. As long as the task is completed at or above the standards you have set, don't let yourself get bogged down in how it was completed.
Truth 3: Information is power. Share it.
One of the single biggest issues I noticed with leadership in the Marines (and I imagine this spans across all branches of the military) is that far too many leaders misused the power of information. Information is powerful in a positive sense when you pass it along to those you lead. Information is also powerful when it is not passed on. But it can have an extremely negative effect.
Why do some leaders withhold information?
Some do it because they have poor administrative skills. It's an unintentional withholding. Others hoard information. This is far more egregious! Hoarding information inflates a leader's feeling of importance. These leaders want people to have an exaggerated sense of reliance on them. However, this situation creates undesirable attitudes in those being led; feelings of uncertainty, low morale, and distrust often result.
Our goal should be to be as open as possible with information. The open communication of information creates motivated, informed team members, whether that is staff members or volunteers. Individuals who feel like a leader is a conduit for important info are much more likely to embrace the direction and vision communicated by such a leader. You will find that open communication of information actually leads to heightened feelings of trust between leaders and those whom they lead. (Before you say it, I am very aware that there is information that simply cannot be passed down to those you lead. However, if you are in the habit of sharing information, your team will understand when it becomes apparent you were withholding certain knowledge from them.)
So these are a few things I learned from great Marine Corps leaders. How can you take these truths and incorporate them into how you lead?