Leading from Alongside

Leading from Alongside

With this article we are beginning a five-part series for Grandparents on how to apply youth ministry skills in their work with their own grandchildren.

There are tons of books on the subject of leadership. Many of them will tell you why it is important to lead from the front – like George Washington crossing the Delaware: “Follow me.” 

Some will promote leading from the back – getting others up and doing – like Jesus sending the disciples out two by two. “You go do it!” 

Others advocate leading from the middle, like a basketball team captain coaching in a huddle. “We can still win this…” 

Youth work recognizes that all of these leadership styles are important. Grandparents have to lead from the front at times. In other situations, they cheer from way up high in the bleachers. However, much of youth work is built around “us together”: leading from alongside. 

I learned to ride a bike like most everyone else – with help. My “coach” demonstrated how to do it, but the goal was for me to learn to do it. When my guide said, “Just do what I am doing,” (leading from the front) it wasn’t helpful. Nor was saying, “Just try it!” (leading from behind). What helped most was having him beside me, steadying me, giving me a little push, running next to me just in case I tipped – that was the leadership I needed. I learned from someone running alongside me. Eventually, I taught my younger brother and sister how to ride a bike using the same principle of leading alongside.

Copyright: Washington Post (Robert Miller)

Youth work isn’t a “top-down” methodology. It is an alongside methodology. It is being: present, trusting, admiring, encouraging, empowering, and steadying – all at once. It is the fun of, “Yes, we can!” and the resulting joy of, “You did it!”

For many grandparents a mentality shift is needed. The top-down approach makes sense with young grandchildren, but as children grow, the “alongside” option needs to become the new methodology. 

For Discussion: Give some examples where an alongside approach would work better for a grandparent that might have required a top down approach as a parent.

For Action: Choose one of your grandchildren who could benefit from your assistance from an alongside position. Plan how you will give that.

This article is adapted from a book, The Strategic Grandparent, by Mike Shaughnessy, which is due out in May, 2020 from the Word Among Us press. 

Copyright © 2020 Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club


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