Dear Lauren,

I’m a member of a youth group, and the president seriously can’t keep the group together. He hogs all the power and doesn’t listen to anyone else and there’s all this infighting among the members – I think because of his lousy leadership. I’m not really sure what to do.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

You can learn from everyone. From some people, you learn how not to be. Hogging all the power? Not listening to anyone else? Of course there’s fighting among the group members. Let’s take your question and explore how to be a better leader than your current president is.

This summer, my kids and I ran around in a labyrinth in a hot, hot, warehouse for a full hour. It was a metal structure with only one window, baking in the summer sun. Boy, was it ever HOT!

The object of the game was for your group to find four clues inside the maze as quickly as possible. Of course, I’m the mother – the titular “leader.” But this was their show. It was time for the kids to lead. It was my job to hold back and let them be the leaders, to show them that I had confidence in their abilities. For the first half-hour, my oldest daughter led us. We found one clue. Then my second daughter decided to lead, and I said “Yay! Now we’re all following Yael!” giving her the feeling that she had our support. She helped us find another clue. But then we all started feeling reallllly hot, and the little kids started saying things like “We’re never going to find the other two clues!” “Let’s just exit the maze.” “We’re going round and round in circles!”

I said: “Roths don’t quit! You guys are all Roths, and Roths don’t quit! We can do this!”

At that point, my youngest child, a six-year-old boy, said, “I know the way. I’ll lead.” I said, “Yay! Now we’re all following Shimon Mendel!” giving him the confidence that he had our support – and he led us to the last two clues!

#Sometimes it’s a good idea to step aside and let others lead.

After we had exited the building and felt some cooler breeze on our faces, I asked each child what they had learned from that experience. The younger two children each said, “Never give up. Roths don’t quit.” The older two said, “Especially if it’s not something terribly important, be open to the possibility that another person might be a very capable leader. Sometimes it’s a good idea to step aside and let others lead.”

A good leader instills confidence in the group members that they are capable, that they have good ideas, that they have the inner resources to do what must be done.

Keep an open mind about the gifts and talents of the group members, and be willing to step aside and let someone else lead. Leaders can come in all shapes and sizes and ages. A six-year-old capably helped us find the final two clues!

In another part of the summer, my kids and I took a bike ride on a mountain, and my bike broke. I had been bringing up the rear in order to make sure everyone else was okay, so my kids didn’t realize I’d fallen behind.

There I was, alone on a mountain bike trail with a broken bike. I sat down next to it and tried to fix it, but I quickly realized that I needed tools. A young couple hiked by, and I asked them, “Do you guys happen to have any tools?”

“Sorry, we don’t,” they answered. Then, zipping along the path on fancy racing bikes came three elderly superladies, aged 75, 78, and 79. I asked, “Do you guys happen to have any tools?”

They replied, “Do we have tools? Sure we have tools!” and proceeded to jump off their bikes, turn my bike over, whip out their tools, fix my bike, and send me on my way! You never know where a good leader might come from. Never underestimate the abilities of group members. People have talents and gifts, and they are just waiting for an opportunity to contribute to the group. Leaders have to be open to allowing group members to lead and to lend their talents to the group.

Not only might that help the group achieve its goals, but, in addition, the group members will feel respected and needed, and the group morale will skyrocket.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

A good leader embodies the theme of this summer, which we saw everywhere: Keep Calm and Carry On.

Really, the job of a good leader (including the job of a good parent, the leader of a family) is to help their group members keep calm so that the group members can figure out what they’re feeling and thinking on their own. Being a good leader means helping others in the group find their own strengths that they can contribute to the group, by creating a calm atmosphere where everyone feels safe to express themselves and their own talents. If a leader can create calm, the group will thrive.

A good leader has to be selfless. He has to ask others how they are, and what they would want, calmly and positively. If you’re the leader, your script goes something like this: "So, guys! What are your opinions? What would you want to do?" And as each person gives their opinion, tell them why you like their idea. If others in the group diss their idea, say to the dissenter, "Everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions. What's your opinion of how we should do this/what we should do?" And you keep talking and discussing, whenever necessary, calmly and positively, until all the group members are reasonably satisfied with the plan.

A leader can't run ahead without communicating to the group, neither literally nor figuratively. The group stays together. Makes decisions together that benefit everyone.

As a parent “group leader,” that means my needs and desires do not get fulfilled on a family vacation, unless they happen to dovetail with the group's needs and desires.

My husband and I were offered to be the speakers on a (therefore 100% FREE) cruise to the Greek Isles. Of course I wanted a free cruise for 10 days in the Greek Isles !! But it was during the time when all my kids were home from school, so of course my needs and desires come second to the needs and desires of the group. How do you think my kids would feel if I said "Toodles!" and flew off to vacation while they were sitting at home out of school? A leader has to sacrifice for the sake of the group.

Energy

My last point. Everyone's energy – whether positive, negative, happy, stressed, Debbie Downer or Peppy Pollyanna – creates the energy of the group. Everyone's. From the youngest happy kid to the oldest grumpy grump. One stressed-out member can set everyone on edge unless a fearless leader has some good, calming, positive words to say. To the stressed guy or to the group in general. A good leader sometimes will choose to ignore a dissenter as a mode of not letting his negative energy infect the group. I know I said it's important to listen empathetically to all group members, but negative guys sometimes have to be ignored for the good of the group, because often when people exhibit a bad attitude, attention just makes the negativity grow and spread.

In our family, the older kids who already know how to spell know that if a younger child misbehaves, I’ll often instruct "I-G-N-O-R-E." It works to divert attention from bad behavior, so that only good behavior is rewarded with acknowledgement. When I say, “I-G-N-O-R-E,” my youngest son has taken to saying, "I know what that means! That means someone's misbehaving!"

So there you have it. Some ideas about how to maybe lead better than the example you’re seeing in your current youth group president.

What will you lead next, and what kind of leader will you choose to be?