Leading Young Staff: 10 Ways To Inspire Them Toward The Mission

Churches, businesses, and other various non-profits are full of young staff and volunteers.  The organizations that are making a huge impact are the ones that know how to inspire those staff and volunteers to help move the mission forward.  However, there are many organizations where young leaders go to die.  Don’t be one of those.

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked for a ministry who clearly stated that it existed “to be used by God to transform the lives of people for His purposes and for His glory.”  The nature of non-profits is aimed at changing lives.  Assuming you believe deeply in the mission of your organization, how can you inspire that same kind of belief in the hearts of the young staff and volunteers?

Recently, I came across two outstanding short articles addressing the differences in young staff.  One was focused on supporting young non-profit professionals at work.  Another addressed more of the uniquenesses of millenials in the workplace today.  Taking some of what they suggested, and adding in what I have seen over the years, I’ve come up with a list of 10 ways leaders can inspire young leaders toward the mission.

1. Embrace the fact that they are part of the mission. Young staff are not merely employees.  Don’t think of them as “ants” that are doing more of the grunt labor to get the stage ready for the real leaders.  Each day they are involved in the work of the mission, their hearts are being transformed.  Know that.  Believe that.  Jesus taught, confronted, rebuked and encouraged his disciples.  He didn’t see them as hired hands to get the real work done elsewhere.

2. Give them the freedom to make a big impact.  I wished I would have learned earlier that a team full of vibrant, sharp, young staff can create strategies for the ministry that I would have never thought of.  I finally noticed a few years ago that the more freedom to create I gave them, the better the outcomes.  They will sniff out busy, monotonous work a mile away.  If you give them complex problems to solve, they will often bring back creative solutions you would have never thought of.

 3. Provide access to professional development opportunities.  At least allow your staff to buy a book or two each year.  Possibly send them to an off-site conference.  Young staff want to build into their “portfolio” by gleaning new experiences.  We just increased our continuing education reimbursements, and many staff have begun seminary as a result.  They might leave your organization once they are done, but you could benefit from their involvement right now.

 4. Invite them to follow you, especially into the areas that are normally “off-limits”.  About 10 years ago I was invited by our CEO to start participating in board meetings.  After years of watching a wide variety of meetings with numerous board members, I have a feel of what a healthy board looks like.  Most people consider the board room to be a mysterious jungle.  Invite your staff to walk with you and mentor them to a new level of capability.

5. Help them create a 5 year development plan.  A few years ago I noticed one of the leaders I worked with had his staff create a career/development plan once they came on staff.  I noticed as his young staff grappled with questions about their strengths, and how they might be utilized in the future.

6. Pay them well.  (This won’t necessarily cost you more.)  Young staff aren’t necessarily in it for the money.  They want to change the world.  Studies have shown that these younger staff are looking for a cause to believe in.  Allow all staff to “get their hands dirty” in the ministry.  If your ministry does work overseas, allow them to see it up close every once in a while.  Get them to interact with someone who has been impacted by the ministry.  This is what drives them, and should drive all of us.

 7. Flatten your org chart, at least in how it functions.  Good ideas should win, no matter what your position.  This is the way they see life.  If your organization is bogged down by hierarchal structure, it will be a massive demotivator for them.

 8. Allow them to adjust their schedule.  I’ve read that flexibility in your schedule is the number one motivator for people in the workplace.  To young staff, flexibility is assumed.  The rigid 9-5 work schedule from 20 years ago is something of the past.  Find creative ways to adjust staff schedules that creates a win-win for the organization and for the staff.

9. Make building community an ongoing priority.  We play hard.  We sponsor softball teams, organize an internal flag-football league, have plenty of staff retreats and even an annual bowling tournament.  Be intentional about forcing your staff to interact on an informal level.  It will help provide the “oil” in relationships when it is needed most.

10. Give them feedback – and not just on a yearly basis.  Young staff have grown accustomed to immediate feedback.  Don’t wait for an annual review to let your staff know how they are doing well or how they could improve.  For them, such feedback is a necessity.

What would you add to this list?

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  1. Levie Chustz April 26, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    On number 3. Because we are a church on a college campus leaders come and go frenquently. My theory- Invest in each person as they move through our church. By doing this I’m investing in Gods KINGDOM reguardless of if they stay or go elsewhere. God will reap the benefit. All for His Glory.

    • Kevin East April 26, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      I couldn’t agree more, Levie. Our temptation is to think that by investing in these people, they somehow owe us something. We translate into thinking they owe us more time.

      We need to be faithful to invest in each one, and trust God with the timeframe he has them in our midst.

      • Leviechustz April 28, 2012 at 11:06 am #

        Your right. I call that stinkin thinkin.

  2. Britt April 27, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    I love this…I am motivated just reading it. I know Pine Cove did so many of these things for me and I think you guys really have discernment in how to make us a part of the mission. Bunga would say we are all steering a huge battle ship… love it! If I can feel a part of what YOU guys at the top are doing I don’t feel disconnected, I feel like we can conquer anything. As much as leadership can connect with other staff and bring them into the “inside stuff” the better.

    • Kevin East May 4, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      Thanks, Britt. I agree with what you are saying here. It is the job of the leadership to bring people into the “inside stuff”. The more inclusion into the mission, the more motivated the staff will be to further it. Good word.