Youth workers in the Church carry a range of responsibilities, and may not often have the chance to reflect on their development as leaders. On 16th October, Forge Leadership released a significant piece of research into Christian millennials (born 1984-2000) in leadership. We believe that millennials have been unfairly stereotyped in the media and sought to give them a voice, learning deep insights about who they are, what they desire and how they lead.
The research findings are split into 5 key themes: identity, culture, leadership development, opportunities and challenges, and spirituality. If focused on, explored and acted upon, these findings can help you as a youth worker understand the environment you’re leading in and release more of your leadership potential.
Millennial leaders told us that their identity as leaders is based on who God says they are and their place as children of God. However, when delving deeper this belief does not always seem to be reflected in reality. Millennials described how their leadership performance was affecting their value, with 47% in our online survey saying that their work performance affects their self-esteem ‘a lot’. Millennials also told us that they want to be liked and that on a daily basis they struggle with worrying about what people think of them. The tension is clearly summarised by one millennial: ‘my stock answer as a Christian leader should be identity in Christ, but often...I am quite reliant on how other people see me and what other people think of me as a leader.’
Identity and authenticity were significant themes within the data, with these qualities being rated highly by millennial leaders across a number of questions. They desire to be leaders of integrity and have leaders with integrity - striving to be the same person inside and outside of work. This illuminates the need for youth workers to lead transparent, joined up lives where they can be vulnerable and let those around them see who they really are. This authenticity will increase the influence of youth workers’ leadership.
Millennial leaders are creating their own, very different, workplace cultures which are relational and purposeful with high levels of feedback, encouragement and vision. 94% in the online survey stated that the quality of their relationships in the workplace is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’. Teamwork and collaboration are seen as their contribution to the wider workplace: 'one of the best things about millennials is collaboration and the way in which we work in teams. I think that’s a really good way of leading...a really positive contribution’ (survey respondent). Within this relational culture, shared vision and purpose is very important too. A vital part of the workplace culture that millennial leaders are creating and desiring is having their value and purpose lived out at work. In the online survey, 78% of millennial leaders selected ‘having a sense of purpose’ as the first or second most important thing at work out of eight options. One millennial leader frustratedly shared: ‘I just want to go somewhere where their ethos is matching mine.’
In terms of leadership development, learning from and being supported by others one-to-one was cited as highly significant. In the online survey, 80% of millennial leaders said that ‘observing the leadership style of others’ is one of the top three things that has had the most influence on how they lead. Mentorship was mentioned by nearly every millennial, with them either having had a mentor or desiring one. The consistency of journeying together, the individualised nature and the focused development that comes through mentoring make it attractive to millennials for leadership development. One millennial explained: ‘mentoring is the most helpful thing because it’s context driven. It’s very specific to what’s going on.’
Opportunities and Challenges
There were three significant opportunities and challenges that were mentioned consistently by millennial leaders as they self-reflected. These were: work-life balance, managing conflict and technology and they are likely to be familiar to you in youth work.
Mixed views were presented with some millennials wanting to have very distinct ‘work’ and ‘life' boundaries. Others were finding less clear boundaries between the two due to the invasive nature of technology and blurred social relationships. This is especially apparent in churches with more blurred boundaries between work and social life. You may well find this as a youth worker with blurred lines between what counts as work and what is usual involvement in Church. Another group of millennials preferred to dismiss the two boundaries and see it as more of a balance with purpose in each part. One told us they see it as ‘more of a blend I think, than a split’.
Conflict management is the most frequently cited difficulty in leading for millennials. With 65% having received no training on conflict management, there is a real challenge here. As a youth worker you may find it difficult dealing with conflict between your youth, but perhaps also with your peers and older people in your organization.
The research showed millennial leaders have a real desire to glorify God through their leadership and to make decisions out of a deep relationship with God. They use the Bible on a daily basis, yet 39% said that whilst it was a high authority, the Bible is not their ultimate authority. Mentorship came up again here too, because when asked online what is most helpful in applying the Bible to leadership, mentoring was ranked by far the highest at 36%.
Recommendations for Millennial Youth Workers
This research brings significant themes to light surrounding Christian millennial leaders and their leadership development that can be of widespread benefit. To help with this we have created recommendations to help you, as millennial youth workers, be the best leaders you can be.
Be aware of the tensions surrounding your identity and take time to self-reflect. Take time to reflect on your own identity as a leader and how you can address some of the underlying tensions within your own life in order to lead your youth in the most effective way from a healthy identity. Becoming more self-aware in these areas can be one of the biggest gifts you can give to the young people you are leading.
Look for a mentor. Make it a high priority to seek out a mentor who can walk through leadership with you, in a focused and contextualised way. Observe their leadership style, ask for feedback, ask questions and make it consistent. The research showed this was an effective method for leadership development and one of the most desired. As a youth worker, seek to be mentored, mentor others and create a culture amongst your team where mentoring is the norm.
Put yourself in environments of high challenge and high support. Put a high emphasis on identifying and creating workplaces that will enable you to take risks and fail, and that provide supportive leaders who will journey with you, support you, and help you to recharge when leadership is tough. The research demonstrated the importance of an environment where relationship is central, feedback is given and leading is done out of a place of support. This is the prime environment for your leadership to be developed as a youth worker. Be open to, and initiate, receiving feedback from your youth group.
Develop healthy conflict management skills and reflect on whole life balance. Practice the concepts of grace, forgiveness and healthy conflict management. Anxiety over conflict, could hold you back from leading your youth to your full potential, and reduce your influence. Understand, reflect and learn about rhythms that work for you. Reflect on whole-life balance and work it in a way that refreshes you.
Take leadership opportunities whenever they are offered, even if you don’t feel equipped to do so. Take any chances to learn on the job because they will serve as catalysts to leadership development for you. The research found that the local Church has been very significant in the leadership development of millennials by offering actual opportunities to lead, even when they didn’t feel ready. These chances to experiment, grow and be challenged are highly beneficial to your leadership as a youth worker.
To download the full research report and hear more from Millennial Leadership please visit: http://millennial-leader.com/research/
Photo by A L L E F . V I N I C I U S Δ on Unsplash