Search the site

Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


What’s at the Root of All Young Leader Development?

One of the crying needs of our day is to equip our youth to lead the way into the future.  Certainly we must teach them to be followers first—but there is a great need for leadership development as they graduate and enter their careers.

So what is at the root of true leader development?

It is the shift of responsibility. From one generation to the next. Taking place over time.

young leader

I believe training doesn’t really take affect until there is a transfer of responsibility. We can teach all day, show videos, play instructive games and do assessments, but until we actually give them responsibility—we have not really built a leader.

If you know me, you recognize I’m a fan of teaching, videos, experiential learning and assessments. Those are all tools we can employ to prepare young leaders. But, alas, they are controlled elements. They simulate leader training, but cannot finish the job, anymore than reading books about weightlifting, observing a fitness center or watching videos of strong guys can ultimately build our own muscles. We have to go lift the weights ourselves.

When we do pass on responsibility, suddenly, all the lectures, experiences and testing are relevant.

One university we work with allowed students to take full responsibility for the leadership training that went on last year. Two students stepped up and led the way, raised the money, came up with the issues to be discussed at the conference, and planned the mentoring process that would follow the fall event. When I asked the dean if they’d made any poor decisions, he said, “Of course they did. They’re young and inexperienced.”  Then—he went on to say, “But we have never had so much “buy in” to leadership development than when these students took charge. They are solving problems, raising money, recruiting peers to volunteer and inciting passion. We are seeing larger numbers of leaders and deeper engagement than ever before.”

It wasn’t the most polished leadership training they’ve ever experienced, but it was the most effective. Why? Because of who owned it.

The key to it all was the transfer of responsibility.

So—how are you doing at actually giving responsibility to your students? Are you intentional about doing it, over time, as you prepare them to lead?



  1. Paul Jolicoeur on August 27, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Thank you Tim, what a great expression of our top priority with our students. In fact, I just got back a few days ago from a week away with our leadership team (both students and adults). We rent a camp and facilitate a leadership development week as we prepare to launch into a new year. We want students to cross over the threshold from consumer to contributor.

    Not only so they receive the guidance and mentorship from adults, we give them every opportunity to do as they lead their peers.

    • Tim Elmore on August 28, 2013 at 7:41 am

      Thanks for the comment Paul! I’m encouraged to hear the way you and your team are transferring responsibilities to young leaders.

  2. Paula on August 27, 2013 at 8:53 am

    This is one of the reasons my children are involved in The Institute For Cultural Communicators. It was new (and scary at first) to me to have children teaching my children, but seeing the result of teens who follow the leadership tree, how competent they are and the servant’s heart they have, and how mature they are at such a young age – I know it is best for my children.

    • Tim Elmore on August 28, 2013 at 7:42 am

      So true, thanks for your comment Paula!

  3. Joseph Lalonde on August 28, 2013 at 5:14 am

    Awesome Tim. In our youth group, we try to give responsibility to the young leaders we’re raising up. Whether it’s being a part of the leadership meetings, manning the sound board, or greeting people, we try to get them involved with something.

    • Tim Elmore on August 28, 2013 at 7:38 am

      That’s great Joe, thanks for sharing!

  4. Joshua Beers on August 31, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for this Tim. We changed our weekend of Welcome for new students this year and put our student leaders in charge of almost the entire weekend. The biggest challenge was letting go as staff leaders who were used to being in charge and letting the students lead. The initial response from our student leaders was that they did not think they could do it. In reality, by the second session they were owning it completely, and we enjoyed our best kick off to our semester in many years. Additionally, our new students are already expressing interest in leading in future years to their peers. Our student leaders are now hungrier to learn because we transferred responsibility to them. My only regret is that we did not do it five years ago.

    • Tim Elmore on September 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

      That is such a great experience for those students. Thank you for leading them and sharing your success! I am glad you are doing it now rather than later.

Leave a Comment

What’s at the Root of All Young Leader Development?