Today we begin our 5th Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago and it appears that it will be our best one so far. It sold out early this year, we have incredible speakers, musicians, youth workers, leaders who serve, and a group of people who are fun, really like teenagers, and love God.

Behind all the activity is a leader who makes it all happen and has made it happen since Day 1. Her name is Kami Gilmour and she’s worthy to learn from. She knows how to find other leaders, empower them, inoculate them to the cultural values, and set them free to lead. I have learned a lot from her over the years. She is the backbone of this event and I asked her to share her thoughts on my series of 4.5 leadership questions. Here you go:

1. What is your definition of leadership?
Leadership is the gift of influencing others with a clear vision that inspires them to action.

2. What’s an important tip you have to share about leading others?
I’ve got many “what not to do” tips I’ve learned the hard way, that’s for sure! Leading people is much different than leading projects, and requires an investment of time, patience and intentionality. Here’s something pretty foundational about leadership that I’ve learned:

Create champions, not task masters—I think the most important part of leading people is inspiring their heads and hearts before engaging their hands. Often leaders are too busy and jump straight to the execution and delegation of their own vision before investing the time to share the vision. Casting a vision should also allow time for feedback and team ownership so you can stack hands together. Once people completely understand the “why” of what they’re doing and believe in it as their own vision they become champions. Leading champions means getting out of their way and cheering them on!

3. What’s your biggest failure/weakness as a leader?
The same passion that fuels my vision and leadership has a dark ugly side. It’s intense, consuming, soul-gnawing and sometimes times I actually lose sight of God amid the mission of the “doing.” Someone once called me “ferocious” and I’ve never forgotten that. When I’m leading too much from myself and not leaning into God my edges get frayed and I can be controlling, overbearing and reactive. Scaring people isn’t the same as leading people. I’ll always have to keep working on that!

4. How do you keep growing as a leader?
Right now I’m working on my soul instead of anything else. I’ve realized that being a Christian leader means more about focusing on the health and depth of my own relationship with God rather than slurping up the latest hot leadership book from the NY Times best-seller list.( and I’d rather explore leaders from the Bible and understand how God used them anyway—especially despite their faults and weaknesses! I dig Moses.) I’m currently in a two-year spiritual formation program with Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community called Strengthening the Soul of Your leadership. It’s with other pastors and Christian leaders and completely out of my normal comfort zone, which stretching me in new places. So far it’s rocked my brain, shredded my ego, stirred my soul and ignited my longing for God…I’m satisfied with that kind of spiritual growth as the priority in my life right now, and hopefully my leadership will grow out of this.

5. What is your favorite_______
Food? Peanut butter. Hands down. I’d rather have a PBJ than a steak dinner. I put peanut butter on everything and it makes it better. Simple, practical, awesome. Peanut butter. Love it.

If you’d like to see the other leadership interviews, you can see Greg Stier, Duffy Robbins, Rick Lawrence, or Doug Franklin and Megan Hutchinson.

If you wouldn’t mind, please be praying for Kami and the entire crew at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference while we’re in Chicago. We really believe that this will be a life-changing weekend for many youth workers. Thanks.