Leadership is About Doing Something

What does it mean to be a leader?

This is a broad question that could be answered in many ways. Leadership is about responsibility. Leadership is about influencing others. Leadership is about envisioning the future. Leadership is about serving. You could say any of these and be correct. That is one of the beautiful things about leadership: it is a multi-dimensional thing that causes every leader to always have some way they can grow.

For the sake of this post I would like to hone in on one aspect of leadership. It is perhaps the most basic of leadership definitions – so basic, in fact, that it seems almost silly to have to bring it up. Yet I think it is helpful to do so. Here is what I want to explore a little with you:

Leadership is about doing something.

Seems trivial, right? Of course leadership is about doing something! No one would ever consider a person who does nothing to be a leader. A person who does nothing is probably the exact opposite of a leader. They are the dead weight that leaders drag along as they press on towards a goal. This is true. But I think it’s important to think about leadership as doing something, because there are many people who are gifted, blossoming leaders and are missing out on realizing a lot of their potential.

While it is important for leaders to grow in competency – that is, to learn to get better and wiser in whatever they are doing – that is something which will take time to develop. No one matures overnight. Learning to be a better and wiser leader comes with experience and mentoring and learning from mistakes. But leaders can still grow by leaps and bounds simply by doing something, even if in a given moment they are not sure what to do. Let me give you an example.

I am the leader of the youth ministry at our church. Every week we have dozens of teens be a part of our programs. When you take a bunch of hormone-crazy teens, from various backgrounds, with varying interests, and vastly different points of view, and then jam them into one room for several hours, it is a recipe for trouble. A lot of youth ministry is learning how to handle all of the crazy things that you’re going to deal with. How do I address the teen who keeps wearing revealing clothing? How do I step in when an argument breaks out? What should I do when a teen awkwardly runs out of the room crying, right in front of everybody? What’s the right approach when I find two kids making out in the bathroom? What is the right response when a teen tells me they are considering suicide?

These are the kinds questions that leaders inevitably are going to have to ask themselves. I have found that blossoming leaders sometimes feel unqualified and unable to deal with the situations they run into. That is probably true. Don’t tell anyone, but half the time I feel unqualified and unable to as well!

In moments like these, let me encourage the leader not to worry so much about making the right move. Certainly, I want leaders to grow and make better and better decisions. It is good to know what to do in the heat of the moment. But leadership is not about knowing exactly what to do as much as it is about doing something. 

I remember the first time I froze up as a youth leader. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had some teens at a large, overnight youth event. I was a young, inexperienced youth leader fresh out of school. A bunch of kids were playing volleyball and basketball in a gymnasium. One kid, who gave off the impression of being a bit of a punk, was showing off some of the wrestling moves he learned from being on the wrestling team. I happened to look over just in time to see him grab one of the girls standing next to him and use a take-down move that made her slam to the floor really hard. I was shocked that a kid his size, even much larger than I, would do that to a girl. I don’t think he meant to be so harsh, but even still…come on! She got up slowly and was in pain but not injured. One of her friends said something nasty to the guy and then they walked off together. It was an uncomfortable thing to witness for sure. And what did I do?

Nothing.

I just watched the whole thing from halfway across the gym. I remember this voice in my head saying “Do something! Say something!” But I just stood there. Granted, it didn’t turn out to be a big deal. No broken bones or anything like that. But I couldn’t help but feel terrible afterward that I had watched this whole thing and did nothing. I didn’t check to make sure she was okay. I didn’t tell him to knock it off. I didn’t do anything at all.

You might just chalk it up to teens being teens, but make no mistakes about it. In that moment, I was not being a leader.

To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what the right thing to do in that situation would have been. Should I have stopped the guy from goofing around like that at all? Or just when he tried to do it to a girl? Should I have disciplined him somehow? Should I have found out who’s youth group he belonged to and let them know?

As I see it, I could have done any of these things. Which one is better than the others I am not sure. But at the very least, I should have done something.

This is what leadership is all about: seeing a situation that needs addressing and getting involved. Not sure what to do? Doesn’t matter. Just do something! Make the best judgment call you can in the moment and respond. You are sure to make plenty of mistakes, and will look back later and realize what you should have done. But in the end, leadership is not about getting every decision perfect. It’s about moving into action when duty calls.

So, next time you see something that just isn’t right, but aren’t sure what to do…don’t freeze up by worrying you will do the wrong thing. Just spring into action and do something. That’s what being a leader is really all about.

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