Learning to Lead

10470238_1019000664782821_3748555308970693486_nI’ve spent the last eighteen years trying to teach our daughter and to train her to be more Christ-like. And yet, so often I’ve discovered, she’s the one teaching me. Last night our daughter Ashley shared an essay she wrote for an engineer leadership position she’s applying for at her university and I asked if I could share it here.

In the short essay below, she shares her experiences volunteering at the Hope Center in Omaha and what she learned from them. Something I myself need to keep in mind as I strive to lead, in whatever capacity the Lord assigns.

Learning to Lead by Ashley Slattery, University of Lincoln Nebraska student, 11796175_1116319855050901_6647543837368226488_nengineering major

When thinking back on the moments in one’s life that were impacted for the better by others, one doesn’t remember the boss barking orders as he props his feet up on his desk. No one thanks the professor who yelled at everyone for their lack of character growth. The true leaders are not those who command, but those who guide and encourage. Those who walk with their followers through life, get down on their level, and pull them up are the ones who are remembered for their impact.

One of the toughest, but best, tasks I have ever been charged with was teaching an art class for inner city kids at a local youth center. The kids all came from rough homes. Many had behavioral issues and a few even had PTSD. I was new. I didn’t know what I was doing, and they knew it. Therefore, they had no respect for me.

Try as I might, they would not sit down and do their projects that I had spent hours planning. Art wasn’t cool.

I desperately wanted to make an impact in these kids’ lives. I wanted my art room to be a place where they felt safe and loved. I wanted to show them that they had talents. I soon realized that I needed them to trust me first. So I started coming in early so I could play with them during free time. I became their friend, so I could also be their teacher.

photo by linlaoyou taken from pixabay.com

As I developed relationships with the kids, I realized that a lot of them didn’t want to do art because they thought they couldn’t. Because they expected to fail, they didn’t bother trying. So I brought art to their level. I taught them about legitimate street artists and other topics that were relevant to them and encouraged them.

I told them that if they did good, I would hang up their work, and the best paintings would be sold in an auction to benefit the program. I started having kids volunteer to come in early to help me set up, and stay after class to help me clean up. During free time kids would ask to work on their own projects and hang out in the art room. They were getting excited. By working with them instead of over them I had helped them discover their talent for themselves. Leadership is about relationships.


livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! First, to those of you who are parents and grandparents, you’re probably familiar with the saying, “Values are caught as much as taught.” We all know modeling is one of the most effective teaching methods. Are you, through your actions, helping to train up your children or grandchildren? Are you leading relationally or have rules and regulations dominated everything else?

For those of you who are local, on January 6th I’ll be speaking to a moms group in Plattsmouth on parenting to the heart–how we can help initiate life-change in our children, and this is all relational! You’re welcome to join us. I’ll share more info as the time gets closer.

And for all of us, what are your thoughts on leadership? Have you had similar experiences to Ashley’s, and if so, what did you learn from it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

BUT, before I go, I just have to say one more thing, and this is to my daughter: Love you, girl!


  1. Wow! This is so great! You have so much wisdom, Ashley! 🙂 I love her heart and her commitment to those kids in not giving up, but changing tactics. Very encouraging!

Leave a Reply