History has shown dictators don't have a lot of success in the long run. Christian leadership, however, has been going strong for 2000 years.
Just as school closed for the summer, 51 teenagers decided to continue their education by attending the Christian Leadership Institute June 26-July 2, at St. Columban Center in Derby. CLI, a weeklong leadership training program for youth, teaches practical skills while fostering the leadership potential of each individual. Each day introduces a new skill, building upon what the teens learned in previous sessions. A typical day involves a large group learning session, small group discussion and planning sessions. Participants need to come prepared to work hard during the sessions, play hard during free time, and pray hard throughout the week.
"Learning has been very direct here," said Zachary Lundy, 15, of St. Brendan on the Lake Parish in Newfane. "Lots of hands on activities where you really experience what you need to know about planning skills and group dynamics to get an activity done."
Main topics include communication, event planning, identifying the needs of the group, and group dynamics. Participants also learn different leadership styles and when to use them.
"That seems like basic stuff that I didn't know that is very important that I had never really thought about before," said Jessie Ford, 15, of Annunciation Parish, Elma.
The program also offers a little bit of self-discovery as the participants learn if they are task or maintenance leaders. Task leaders focus mainly on the job at hand and work towards completing the task. Maintenance leaders make sure everyone in the group feels happy and confident. Most people lean one way or the other. Realizing what the job at hand needs, as well as understandings one's own inclination, helps a leader make decisions.
"I'm more maintenance than anything, but there are times when I have had to be more task because there are already people who are maintenance. If you have so many maintenance people, you are not going to get the task done," said Fiona Schaefer, 15, of St. Joseph University Parish, Buffalo.
Lundy, a task leader, learned he has to consider the group's feeling in most situations. "If you have a day to complete the task, you may be more task oriented. But, I learned that I have to include the group more. I need to focus on what they're feeling," he said.
The Christian aspect of leadership comes in the form of sacrificing for the betterment of the group.
"Shutting out people's ideas is one thing that this program really stresses, especially with the Christian values in mind, is not a leadership technique that should be used ever. I should always, when I am in a leadership position, focus on the needs of all the group and the comfort of the group as well as getting things done," said Jesse Brodka, 16, of St. Benedict Parish, Eggertsville.
"The Christian Leadership Institute is teaching that you need to make the sacrifice, just like Jesus made the sacrifice for us, so that the group will be united. Whereas a leader might not recognize that you need to put the group's need in front of your own," added Lundy.
Many of the teens who participated already serve or plan to serve in leadership roles in their parish or school. CLI is a requirement for the diocesan Youth Board.
At the end of the week Chiara Raimondo, 17, from Our Lady of Loretto Parish, Falconer, reflected on the joy of seeing the enthusiasm in her peers.
"Back at home I don't have that many friends that are passionate about the Catholic faith like I am, so there weren't many opportunities for me to connect with people my own age and talk to about things that I feel needed to change within our parish. Here, every kids is really involved, and every kids is really passionate about what we're learning about. So, I feel very optimistic about going back home," she said.
CLI is an annual program sponsored and hosted by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.