A Leadership Challenge to High School Students
Last Friday I was honored to speak to high school students at the Nazarene Christian Academy (NCA) in Crowley, Texas at their career and college day. The NCA is a well-led organization (church and K-12 school) that is a shining light in our community. As I reflect on my interaction with the students, I wanted to share a few thoughts for the young followers of this blog about leadership habits for students, spefically: a leadership challenge to high school students. I want to challenge you to do the things I wished I had begun at your age.
I arrived in the United States two weeks shy of my 15th birthday. I entered the 11th grade. I barely spoke English. It was one of the most exciting—and the scariest—times in my life. I know as a young person, life can be challenging. It definitely was for me. So hang in there! Actually, I want you to do more than just hang in there…more than merely survive. I want you to thrive! And I am going to tell you how.
Five Secrets You Would Share with Yourself
I am going to share with you five secrets that I know you would tell yourself if you were in your thirties now “visiting” with your teenage-self. I know you’ve already heard the standard advice: work hard, value your family, honor people, make good grades, go to college, and dream big. I did these as a young person. I worked hard, made good grades, and became a doctor. These things are important. But these aren’t secrets, are they?
What I want to challenge you with today, I only wish I had begun as a teenager. But I did not learn of their power until my early thirties. Taking advantage of these five secrets now (if even on a small scale) will give you an enormous advantage in your 20’s, 30’s and beyond.
#1 – Read consistently.
I discovered this at age 32. It was life changing for me. I challenge you to start now as a young person. The reading I am talking about here is not studying for school. Studying to become a doctor involved so much reading; while important, this reading was not life-changing. Nor am I referring to the leisurely reading of fun novels like Harry Potter. I am talking about reading thought-provoking books like biographies, leadership material, history books—books that will make you think and challenge you to grow.
You may say that you don’t have time. You do. We all do. Here is how you start: commit to reading a certain number of pages per day. Currently I commit to reading 30 pages per day. That usually works out to about 5 to 6 books a month. If you read 10 pages a day, that would be about 1 to 2.5 books a month. You should be able to read 10 pages in 20 minutes. The key here is consistency. If you commit to this 20 minutes a day starting now, it will change your life. Will you accept my challenge?
#2 – Pursue God vigorously.
Here is why I believe in God: There is nothing on this earth that fills my heart like God. Nothing comes close. I have a loving family. I’ve had success, position, education and money. I have driven nice cars, traveled extensively, and led great organizations. I have been the boss, the “doctor in charge,” and visited with famous people. While these things are nice, at the end of the day these things are also fleeting. Life is short. Life can be cruel. Life can be sad. But God is good. With God you have hope and joy. You have meaning and purpose. The God I believe in is Jesus of Nazareth.
Here is the trick: If you don’t pursue God you will not know Him, truly know Him—know Him enough to walk with Him daily. If you do not pursue Him, then you will pursue that other stuff. But if you do pursue Him, all the other stuff will be a part of your journey with Him. He will not be a small part of your life. He will be your life. And the other stuff will be just be that—stuff. How to pursue Him? Simple. Spend time with Him. Pray (keep a prayer list with the date you started praying for something). Read His Word. Again we’re talking about consistent daily time. I commit to a minimum of 30 minutes daily. You can start with 15 minutes. Will you accept my challenge?
#3 – Study leadership.
I was very happy to learn that the NCA offers a course on “Servant Leadership.” Some schools do now, but in most schools it is an elective. So why should you elect to study it—not just as a course but as a life long pursuit? Think about it, anything worthwhile is accomplished with people. Your role one day as a spouse and parent is a leadership role. As are your roles at work, at church, in the community, and with your friends. If you want to do something meaningful with your life, you simply cannot do it alone. So how do you take people along on a great journey with you? How do you inspire people and motivate them and empower them?
Study leadership. Whether you aim to be a doctor, a pastor, a firefighter, a soldier – bringing people along with you is paramount to you fulfilling your life purpose. How do you study leadership? Read books about it, specifically biographies of successful leaders, and talk to people you consider to be effective leaders. So here again, will you accept my challenge?
#4 – Value relationships.
Growing up in a close church community I always valued relationships. However, I did not know the importance of them until my early thirties. Having the ability to build strong relationships with others is the very foundation of your success in life. Learn how to do it well. It is key to your leadership and to a life that aims to give rather than take. I accomplish my greatest dreams with those closest to me at work and outside of work. The question is: Will I have the courage to build solid relationships? So I challenge you, my young friend, wherever you find yourself to build the best, warmest relationships you can.
#5 – Be intentional about personal growth.
The first four points are all related to personal growth. So in closing, I want to be clear that personal growth is not automatic. It is intentional. Sure, life will randomly teach you lessons along the way. However if you are just waiting on life to teach you things, your rate of growth will be so slow. By the end of your life, you will not have come close to reaching your potential. I urge you to give this some thought. What is your growth plan? We are now wrapping up 2013.
Make a list for 2014 of how you want to develop yourself in the year ahead. I encourage you to consider what skills you want to learn, goals for your school or your community. However, what I am specifically talking about here are goals for yourself to become bigger, better, deeper. Goals to improve your spiritual life, your emotional life, and your relationships. Goals that will challenge you to learn new ways of thinking, to learn new perspectives and new paradigms. Thomas Edison once said, “There is always a way to do it better – find it.”
I hope that you face each day with courage, tenacity, and persistence—persistence to start daily leadership habits that will give you a step up in all that you dream to do with your life.
I believe in you!
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