Motivating a Student Leadership Team (And Keeping it Motivated)

Anyone who has worked with youth for any amount of time know that at the best of times some young people are a challenge to motivate.  Young leaders are no exception.  With the demands on young people’s time and energy these days, I think we’re lucky they get out of bed on most mornings.

At times your young leaders will be highly motivated, especially when you’re working in one of their gifted areas, and at other times, you’ll have to literally light a fire under them to get them to move (I’m not suggesting setting anything on fire, especially a student).

Motivation is important, because motivated leaders are more active, perform better, and are more engaged in their activities.

Unfortunately, knowing when your leadership team is going to be motivated or not isn’t something that you’ll be able to nail down.  Sure, cleaning up after an event isn’t going to motivate them, and going on cool mission trips probably will; but for most of the in-between it will be hard to call.

It’s true that most motivation is internal, and there’s very little that you or I  can do about that, but we can creep around on the peripheral and set up our leadership team’s activities so that they will be more excited about them.

If you’re finding it harder and harder to motivate your students, I think it’s time to look at how you’ve structured your leadership team and how you treat your students.

Ask yourself these questions and then fix what needs to be fixed.

Do my student leaders have the authority they need to do their jobs?

Any leader needs the appropriate amount of authority to carry out their job.  Without the proper authority, you get frustrated and burnt out.  Many student leaders find themselves with lots of responsibility but no authority; and it’s no wonder they aren’t motivated.  Make sure that when you give your students leaders a job or task, that they are also given the proper authority to carry it out.

Do my student leaders have the proper support to do their jobs?

As our student leaders progress in their leadership skills and capabilities we should be reciprocating with new tasks and jobs that challenge and strengthen them.  With each new task though, there is a certain amount of support that your student will need to succeed.  This varies with each student and task, and can include anything from training, to a budget to continuing logistical support.  Throwing them into their task in a sink-or-swim bid is a great recipe for disaster.  So is assuming that they will be fine without any kind of support from you.

A student without proper support crashes and burns fast.  When that happens, they won’t be motivated any further.

Are my student leaders mature enough to handle their leadership responsibilities?

Christian leadership demands a mature Christian.  There’s no two ways about that.  The demands of Christian leadership are high in the physical and spiritual realm, and many times our students just aren’t mature enough to handle the level of responsibility that we’ve given them.  A student leader who has less maturity than their responsibility demands will be prone to burnout, and may start to crack under the pressure.  This student will not be motivated to the work, or to get any further work.

Am I giving my student leaders feedback?

All of us love feedback at our jobs.  People who don’t get any feedback often list that as their biggest complaints about their jobs.  Whether good or bad feedback, we need to strive to let students know how they are doing; we need to coach them along their leadership journey so they can grow, improve, and know when to move on.   Getting feedback motivates us to do better, to tone it down, and to grow.  If we aren’t giving feedback, it’s very easy for our students to lack motivation.

Am I debriefing my student leaders?

More than just coaching students, which may happen only once or twice a year, or providing daily thumbs up or thumbs down, we need to be helping our students apply the lessons they are learning to their lives around them as they grow as Christian leaders.  Without debriefing, many students may be left wondering why they are doing what they’re doing, or they may become lost as they try to sort out how what they’re learning applies to their lives at all.  Motivation drops quickly when we get the feeling that we’re spinning our wheels.

Working in the margins to help our students stay motivated takes a lot of work, but in the end everyone, including you and the students, are happier, healthier, and more Christ-Focused.

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About Matt Gooch

Christ Follower, Husband to Brandy, and Executive Director of Next in Line Ministries. My true passion is leadership development for teenagers. I love to read, write, hike, and spend time with my family.

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