It's not just about you as an individual. It is also about you as a leader, as someone who can have a positive influence on others.
Where are we going?
The photo above is of a group of friends out hiking. They have paused to work out what direction they should go in next. One has a compass. Others have a map. They are looking at the landscape to get their bearings and plot their course. This is a lot like what is needed among a group of young people trying to help each other negotiate the trackless wilderness of relationships.
OK, the 'trackless wilderness' part might be a little dramatic - or then again, maybe not! It can certainly feel a lot like that when you're young and trying to figure out how to relate to the opposite sex. And you might know just as much, or as little, as any of your friends. Just like the hikers, we seek any help we can find and work together to clarify the way forward.
Two Kinds of Leadership
We could identify two kinds of leadership relevant here, 'friendship leadership' and 'social leadership'.
What is 'friendship leadership'?
This is the way you can influence a friend one-to-one, or maybe a few friends, by how you take the role of initiative. It might be as simple as saying to someone, 'How have you been?' instead of leaving it unsaid. It might be saying, 'Why don't we all go to the movies on Friday night?' These might sound like really simple examples, but they are the kinds of things that someone has to say. Being a leader is saying them. Not being a leader is not saying them but only thinking them, and perhaps not even that. If you are part of a regular group of friends you might have got used to letting someone else take this leadership role. But even if it doesn't come as naturally to you it is possible to cultivate this kind of leadership simply by having a go and persisting.
What is 'social leadership'?
This is taking a similar role but in a larger group, and in more organised ways. Let's say you think to yourself, 'Our group is stuck in a bit of a rut. Wouldn't it be great if we had a big outing to the beach, organised some games and prizes, and had a picnic. Let's see if we can get 20 or 30 people there, including from outside our own little group.' Maybe you would just think about it and dream how great that would be. Maybe you tell a friend, but neither of you feels confident enough to try and make it happen. But maybe you do. That is the beginning of 'social leadership'. Something that would never happen can become a reality if you take the lead.
We really need leaders
You might think, 'But won't this all take care of itself?' It is easy for a group of friends to merely drift, and just keep repeating the same few activities, just 'hanging out' in a lazy kind of way. We become used to what is familiar and easily slip into a much narrower life than we could have. But there are some very good reasons why we need more intentional friendship leadership and social leadership. I want to highlight two - loss of social connection, and poor quality socialising.
Loss of Social Connection
Many young people find it hard to find a regular group of friends and a fairly stable wider social circle in which to learn and grow personally and socially. This is especially the case once you leave school, but even at school this can be an issue. At school it is likely to revolve around feeling left out or excluded, and the solution is often 'friendship leadership'. You can reach out to someone who seems left out and include them in your group.
After school it can be quite literally having no social connections with other young people. You might have moved to another town and don't know anyone. Even when you have found some acquaintances you might be having trouble finding a new place to belong. You might go through periods of having no friends at all, and have to rely on 'virtual' connections. But there is no real substitute for actual face to face friends. The first part of the solution is to try and find a new place to belong, and a church youth group or program is one of the best options.
The second part of the solution is to take up the hard work of trying to become a leader who can draw other people together. This is especially so because there are probably many others in the same boat as yourself. It might not look like it at first glance, because it might seem that everyone else knows someone and has some place to go, except you. But that is often an illusion.
Poor Quality Socialising
Even when you have some friends and a social circle of some sort, it is common to find that the kind of socialising these people do is of a poor quality. What do I mean by poor quality socialising? There are different kinds. Here are some examples:
- You go out to a nightclub but the music is so loud you can't have conversations, and people are just milling around passively, drinking and trying to look like they're having a good time. But where do you go to from there?
- You hear about a 'party' at someone's house, so you go but people are just sitting round talking to people they already know, and no one tries to include you. There is nothing organised to help people interact, so it just drifts along and tends to be fairly superficial.
- You are hanging out with a group of people, many of whom seem intent on getting drunk, there is loud music and people are starting to make out on the couch, or going off somewhere in pairs.
What is missing from these scenarios? There is no leadership, or it is leading people in the wrong direction. There is no one who takes on an intentional role of including other people. There are no organised activities to make it easier for people to get to know each other, or to inject some more creativity into the occasion.
In these scenarios there is something you as a 'friendship leader' can do. You can be the one to intentionally reach out to others and try and establish connections. You can put your own needs second for a time and focus on those who seem even more left out than you are. Instead of being preoccupied trying to find the cutest member of the opposite sex you can to connect with, you can take the wider view and start thinking - 'Hey, we need to turn some of these acquaintances into friends.' You start thinking more strategically, and you begin to see the outlines of a mission to build a better quality of social life among your peers.
This role can begin to extend beyond that one occasion and become something you adopt more consciously. So you begin reaching out and making some contacts and inviting them to the next 'party'. You think more broadly than your own small circle and look around to see if there are others who might be looking for friendship.
Once you start seeing things more like a mission, you might react a bit and think to yourself, 'But why does it have to be me? All these others are just doing their own thing. And I'm just as keen to find a special someone as anyone else is. So why should I have to take on this extra responsibility? I need my social time too.' It is quite valid to feel that way. It is important to recognise that taking on a role of leadership does not mean that it is meant to be all-consuming. In fact, one of the first things you'll need to do is enlist at least one other person to your cause.
But there is also a personal payoff for taking the lead. Firstly, you'll get to attend more enjoyable, high quality gatherings. Secondly, the extra profile of being an organiser might bring you to the favourable attention of someone who could turn out to be special. The first is a valid motivation in its own right. Why shouldn't you get to enjoy a better quality of social life? The second is obviously not meant to involve a merely a pragmatic motivation, but if you do it genuinely it gives others an opportunity to see what kind of person you are.
So where are we going to go?
That is up to you.