the shape of leadership

Leading Young Adults Like Jesus

You must understand what is being sought in a leader

Kent Ingle on August 8, 2022

Who are you leading?

To lead effectively, you must thoroughly understand your context — and that includes the people who follow you. One of the most important tools you have as a leader is listening.

There are plenty of podcasts, articles, and surveys out there for you to learn more about the generation you lead. However, nothing compares to actively listening to others for understanding their needs and desires.

To better comprehend the generation I’m leading, I recently asked young adults what types of attributes they want in a leader. Many of those traits reflect how Christ led His disciples.

Below are five characteristics young adults look for in leaders.



There is a desire by young adults to follow individuals who are genuine and transparent with those they lead. Too often, young adults have seen influencers and leaders put on a persona in front of their followers and then act a different way outside of the public eye.

Young adults want a glimpse into your life and know you are the same person with your closest friends as with them. They do not want leaders who put themselves on a pedestal and are not willing to show their humanity. They want someone who is real.

Philippians 2:5-6 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Christ knew who He was, but never used it for His personal gain or platform.

If you want to connect with Gen Z, be authentic. Do not use your position for self-elevation, use it instead as a tool to connect and serve others as Christ did.



Leaders often have the misconception that vulnerability is a weakness. Rather, honesty and sharing the truth help your followers trust you more. When you make a mistake, own up to it. If you do not know everything, admit it.

Vulnerability makes it easier for young adults to relate with those who are leading them. The reality is leaders do not always have everything together, and it is OK to demonstrate that. This does not mean you share all your shortcomings. It just means you are willing to show you’re not perfect.

Mark 14:32-34 says, “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.”’

Although Jesus was
the Son of God, He
best embodied what
it meant to be a
servant leader — a
trait many leaders
need today.

Jesus was vulnerable with the disciples, and He shared the agony being felt before His death on the cross. When you share your pain and difficulties with others, it allows them to relate to you and recognize they are not alone in their struggles.



One young adult asked me how leaders can remain grounded when they become more successful. Truthfully, humility is recognizing where your giftings come from and acknowledging those who helped you get where you are.

Humble leaders are willing to admit they do not have everything together. They also learn to let go of control by empowering and encouraging others to lead.

Philippians 2:7-8 discusses how Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

Young adults want to see leaders who exemplify humility as Christ did. Although Jesus was the Son of God, He best embodied what it meant to be a servant leader — a trait many leaders need today.



Since the onset of the pandemic, one of the most desired leadership traits has been empathy. Young adults, like most people, want their leaders to care about them on a personal level. They want to be valued for who they are and not just their performance.

Empathetic leaders try to understand what their followers are going through. As a leader, you cannot just be focused on helping someone perform well, you need to genuinely care about them and their well-being.

As Hebrews 4:14-16 says, Christ was able to empathize with our weaknesses as He was tempted in every way. When you lead young adults, be willing to understand where they are coming from and ask questions about their lives.



Ultimately, young adults want leaders who will mentor and help them grow in their personal and professional lives. In the workplace, Gen Z members have shared a desire for leaders who provide frequent feedback.

Young adults want leaders coaching them as they discover who God has made them to be. It is critical leaders establish a culture of investing in and helping others reach their full potential.

When Jesus called His disciples, He did not just tell them what to do. He showed them how to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-22). Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, He invested in the lives of His disciples.

While you can set an example for young adults to follow, it is critical that you also empower them in their giftings.


Leaders may often feel the need to change who they are to be most effective. The reality is that people are profoundly influenced by those who actively listen to them. And, to adequately lead the next generation, you must understand what is being sought in a leader.

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