Q & A: Kate Coleman

Kate Coleman speaks extensively on leadership is the founding director of Next Leadership and recently completed a term as chair of the Evangelical Alliance Council. She spoke to deputy editor Ruth Jackson about equipping the next generation

RJ: What can youth workers do to help raise our young people into leadership?

KC: At the end of the day, leadership is leadership. Whether you’re a young leader or an older leader, the task of leadership is to take people on a journey, and there are loads of different ways of doing that. I guess one of the things that is particularly key for younger leaders is helping them to see that they can do it. When you look at the Bible a lot of the leaders that we think are amazing were actually very young. They’re the people that God is raising up. They may not have all the experience and they may not know everything they need to know, but they’ve got enough to get started and at the end of the day, they’re making a journey with others and others will have things to bring too.

The encouragement is to give what you can, make the investments you can and don’t hold back on your gifts, even if you feel you only have one gift and someone else is banging away on ten different drums. Just beat the drum you’ve got and beat it faithfully; do everything you know how to do with it and trust that God will make really good use of it. There’s an old phrase, ‘If you don’t blow your own trumpet, nobody will know you’re in the band.’ You’re not the only member in the band but everyone has got to play the instrument they have been gifted with. So I think there’s not much difference [between young people and adults], but confidence and conviction may be a bigger issue when you’re younger because you’re still trying to figure out where to invest yourself the most.

RJ: How can we be better youth leaders and mentors to our young people?

KC: It’s really just about taking time to turn to them, not just about leading them some place but actually turning to them, giving them time to ask questions and finding out where they’re up to in terms of their understanding and what kind of investment they might need. We’re in an age, certainly in the Western world, of the great individual, so everything is customised and that’s how younger people are experiencing the world. Therefore as leaders, rather than thinking that we can do one thing that covers all things, we actually have to gain more texture to our leadership and realise that we’re leading different kinds of people. Some are extroverts, some are introverts, some have other challenges, some have other issues and we lead them best, we raise them best, by becoming familiar with who they are and then making the investments in a way that makes sense to each one of them.

Leadership isn’t just a hammer: there are textures, there are different approaches and sometimes a screwdriver is the better one to use  

RJ: The assumption is often that extroverts make the best leaders, but what can we be doing specifically for the introverts in our youth groups?

KC: Notice them. I think a lot of youth work seems to be geared towards extroversion: it’s often loud and it’s for the people who can bounce up and down. When you look at Jesus’ 12, many of their names we don’t remember: people like Jude and Bartholomew. We know the ‘Sons of Thunder’, the extroverted ones, but it took the whole group of them to turn the world upside-down, so we have to notice. Actually, introverts make amazing leaders, they just lead in a slightly different way. Some of it is about recognising that leadership isn’t just a hammer: there are textures, there are different approaches and sometimes a screwdriver is the better one to use. God has given a whole spread of personalities, capabilities and capacities and if we only ever use one, we’re missing something. The reality is that, without noticing, most leaders will look for people like them so it’s about pushing out of your comfort zone and looking for people who aren’t like you because usually they bring the best back to you. When you look at Jesus’ 12 and even 120 you think, ‘how on earth did they live together?’ You can feel the friction in the group and yet, that was the group. I get excited about things like that!

RJ: What would you say to young women in our youth groups?

KC: A lot of it is about helping women to recognise where their leadership behaviours can be self-defeating. I hope that one day what I do won’t be needed anymore. In fact, I’m working hard to work myself out of a job! This is the world we live in and therefore they’ve got to be aware of it and they’ve got to do what they can do to lead to the best of their ability. There are some extraordinary women leaders out there. I have the amazing privilege of interacting with some amazing women.

RJ: How can we identify and encourage our young people in their giftings?

KC: Some of this is about being very intentional: ‘I’m looking, I’m doing what Jesus did, I’m going up a mountain, I’m saying to the father, “Show me, who is it.” I’m coming down the mountain, I’m going to find them, I’m going to look for people with really, really different gifts. I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking for something that can become something else, I’m looking for that spark, I’m looking for a little bit of courage, a little bit of initiative, I’m looking for passion even when it’s framed withinintroversion, I have to become more able to see. The onus isn’t on them, it’s on me.’

Introverts make amazing leaders, they just lead in a slightly different way

As youth leaders, it’s about taking that responsibility and not just making the programme work or making the meeting happen, but about making those moments of, ‘Wow, that was kind of interesting what she just said,’ and ‘What he just did, he did that really quietly,’ and, ‘Maybe I’m missing something here, maybe I’ll get them to do something else.’

RJ: You’ve spoken about the importance of preventative approaches: trying to stop destructive behaviours before they occur. How can we as youth workers help with this?

KC: I think youth workers are really strategically placed for this; usually after parents and teachers, they come next, so they’re going to see things, but it’s only useful if they have a developmental understanding of the young people they’re working with. You’ll get those who need a bit of milk and who need a bit of a cry but you’re trying to move them on, to develop them from there to the place where they can be the young people who know how to do the battle with the enemy, then onto the place where they become reproductive, where they actually produce others. If you don’t have a developmental mindset, you miss the boat. Youth workers are in a really strategic role but you need to realise your task is to help them to make a journey of growth and development, to deal with the underlying issues, to pick up on those things when you see them in their small state.

We make a lot of allowances for young people, which we should, but there are right allowances and inappropriate allowances. We discover we’ve got adults who don’t know how to behave, who don’t know how to relate, who don’t know how to live because nobody challenged them, nobody put an arm around them, but with a bit of a tough edge; nobody gave them some tough love and actually we have a responsibility for that: God doesn’t hold back on that with us and I’m really grateful for that. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t had a few mentors when I was younger who said, ‘You don’t have the luxury to not lead, you’ve heard it from Heaven, obedience means stepping into it.’

Youth workers are strategically placed to stop destructive behaviours before that occur  

That was really tough, I didn’t want to hear that, but I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t paid attention. Other mentors have said, ‘Kate, what was all that about?’ ‘What was going on with that?’ ‘Why did what that person said illicit that response?’ They sent me back to think about these questions and work through them. Sometimes, you’re having the conversation not with the young person, but with their father or with their brother or with their peer group, and you’ve got to find the young person and you’ve got to draw that person out so that they understand who they are before God.

RJ: What would you say to a young person who wants to change the world?

KC: I’d say, ‘Go do it!’ I remember when I was younger and I said, ‘I really want to serve God, I really want to make something happen.’ I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now or be where I am if I hadn’t had that attitude. The reality is, if you want to change the world, you’re going to have to work with other people, but if you want to change the world, hold the passion and keep that in front of you. It’s been done before: the world has been changed. We have loads of social reformers in the history of this country and globally, who do change the world every day.

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