Preparing Youth To Lead When They Leave

As youth development professionals, we spend a good deal of our time preparing students on how to get things: an internship, a job, a mentor, etc. We do not, however, spend enough time teaching them the proper way to leave the internship, job or mentorship. As a result, we are developing a generation of young people who have an idea on how to create relationships, but do not know how to maintain them.

As the CEO of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), I am always aware that our organization will not always be the right fit for every young man who enters our middle school pipeline. Even still, those who make it to the Ambassador Program don’t always finish the course. My mentor Bill McLellan once told me, ‘95% of the falls in mountain climbing occur in the last 5% of the climb’. Sometimes we just don’t finish things well, but we don’t have to go through life burning bridges.

Below are three ways that our organization prepares our Ambassadors to lead when they leave; either through program completion or attrition:

• Discuss the end at the beginning: Kelli and I have a 14-year-old daughter who is a beautiful girl in spirit and beauty. Undoubtedly, we are entering the stage of teenage life that most parents dread: dating. Although Mackenzi is at least a year or more from having a boyfriend (emphasis on ‘or more’), she knows the one question that any young man who asks to be in her presence must answer – ‘How are you going to break up with my daughter?’ As my mentor Dr. Covey says, we have to begin with the end in mind. When everybody’s heart is gushing at the beginning of a new relationship, that’s the best time to talk about how each party will behave when and if it becomes necessary to part ways.

• Evaluate Commitment Daily: Earning and keeping the Ambassador status is not an easy thing to do. I often equate our programming to the Military Academies; this isn’t for the general enlisted, but for young men who are willing to submit themselves to training that will test them on a daily basis in various areas of their lives. If an Ambassador is not asking himself everyday, ‘Do I really want to do this?’, then we aren’t doing our jobs right. Young people under your leadership should be encouraged to revaluate their commitment to your organization each day. This pause allows them to not only reflect, but to also recommit themselves for the challenges ahead.

• Don’t Be Afraid of Attrition: There are those who equate attrition to poor service and poor leadership and this assertion is true, sometimes. Attrition can also be attributed to choice. Sometimes people leave because they are not willing to adhere to the program standards that have been set before them. L.E.A.D. is a six-year program; what was good for a young man in the 6th grade, might not be what he wants in the 9th grade and that’s ok. Our job is to ensure that we’ve done all we can to prepare him to be a good steward over the relationships and opportunities that will come his way- whether we’re in his life or not. In addition, we also want to be sure we’re providing the best programming we can, so I strongly suggest doing periodic surveys. The feedback from these surveys will help to keep your program activities fresh, relevant and impactful.

Through technological innovation, our world has become so wide; the way we make it smaller and more personable is through relationships. Let’s be sure as men and women who are leading young people that we are preparing them to lead even when they have to leave.

Special thanks to L.E.A.D. Ambassador DeMarkus Parris (Alonzo Crim High School c/o 2017, Atlanta Public Schools) and Rose Caplan for helping me write this blog.