This past Sunday, I shared with our 40 members of HYPE some of my regrets [during my senior year in high school] and tried to challenge them to be a better leader than I was.

To not only view CYT from a participant perspective (what can I get, what’s the minimum required) but as a student leader (what can I give, how to lead by Christ’s example.)

In my opinion, something powerful happens when a CYT teenage participant starts to focus on becoming a giver, not just a taker. When they start to transition into leading through integrity instead of from a place of insecurity or selfishness, you can see the difference. Here are a few examples I shared at our HYPE meeting that might help the rest of our young adults:

1) Sometimes a CYT participant will allow their own disappointment to lead to blaming others. Usually the way this plays out is during casting or when student leadership positions are assigned at CYT. When a leader faces disappointment it causes them to improve, to step up and get better. A true leader would not blame others but would ask the question “how do I improve my skill set and have a better result?” They are accountable.

2) A participant at CYT will often have a tight knit circle of friends that they rely on at rehearsals. They cheer loudly for them at auditions and spend their breaks together. There is nothing wrong with that, we want kids to make close friends. However, a leader will always strive to expand their inner circle of friends to be more inclusive of other students. They reach out to the new kid, take a break from the tight knit circle and spend time with others outside the circle. They will even try to organize events that are for all teens in the cast and crew vs. having lots of exclusive gatherings/sleepovers. A leader also knows the names of the backstage crew and is friendly to them not just the cast. They are inclusive.

3) It is not uncommon for CYT cast members to show up a few minutes late, unprepared, and often not having spent time reviewing materials on their own time. However, a leader would not only show up with all the old material rehearsed and on time, they come with creative ideas they have prepared to show the directors. They prepare and create ideas for scenes they are in, characterization, accents, ad-libs, creative ideas/suggestions to solve problems, and they try things out for the directors to approve. They are prepared and professional.

4) A typical teenager might on occasion spill their guts and opinions on facebook without any filtering. But a leader will always have someone else wiser than they check their writings before they let the whole world hear their opinions. They might vent out a letter in anger but then they wisely decide not to send that emotion-packed letter to the intended recipient. A student leader has a strong filter. They are wise and discerning.

5) Less mature CYT participants sometimes are unwilling to make true sacrifices but at the same time want to be considered leadership material. They don’t realize yet that there are no shortcuts to being considered leadership material. I haven’t yet met a solid leader than hasn’t had to make a ton of tough choices and personal sacrifices to get where they are. They are willing to serve and make sacrifices, time and time again. Sadly, we are raising a generation of some entitled students, not all but certainly some. I come across students looking for the easy way, the quick pay raise, the quick promotion all the time. “I’ll work at camp only if it’s minutes from my house?” or “I’m 16 years old now, so I’m entitled to aide this class” or “I’ve worked here three weeks, I deserve a pay raise.”

A leader when called to do something will do it even though it might cost them. They work hard and long for their raises, they drive far distances to serve CYT and pay their dues. Leaders are sacrificial and humble.

6) As a director, I often see directors struggling to get students to listen to direction. This is a newer development from my perspective. Part of this issue is that kids just love being together and are excited at CYT. I also think our culture has created this sense in our youth that everything they have to say matters. That’s just not true. Most of what I say as an adult doesn’t even matter compared to what I gain from merely listening. A leader knows that there is more value in listening than speaking. When directors/teachers talk, they listen. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most respected director in CYT or the least. There is something they can learn. A leader is teachable.

7) A leader comes into CYT and leaves the program better than when they found it. They actually give back more than CYT has given to them. There are dozens of student leaders that left CYT better than when they found it. They were exceptional mentors to many younger students, they served as a volunteer at camps each summer, they led HYPE, they earned the Rose, Crew or Watchdog Award and often multiple times. They expressed gratitude to CYT despite the fact that we were more blessed to have them. A leader gives back more than they take.

These are all of the areas I struggled in as a student and, of course, still struggle with as an adult. I made it clear to our HYPE members that these are not just student lessons but lessons for all of us. It will indeed take us all a lifetime to become leaders with full integrity. Our model is Christ and that path toward His perfect example is a long journey of trial and error and forgiveness. I hope you can glean insight from my observations.

Contributed by Justin Parks, Executive Director & Co-founder of CYT Chicago

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