Think About The Llama!


Written By Dan Jessup

My leadership strategy and thinking has changed some over my 30+ years of leading in Young Life.  Today, I think a lot about the llama.  Yep, since you can find these wild and unruly beasts all over South America in the Andes Mountains, I sometimes ponder, what would happen to the mission I lead if I got run over by a llama?  What would happen if I were trampled to death?

Think about it:  one day I will not be leading Young Life in Latin America and the Caribbean, which means that one day, someone else will.  Have I led and am I leading with intentionality so that we have a robust, thoughtful, proactive succession plan (that’s corporate speak for good leadership development) in the works, just in case the llama makes his move?

Jesus knew he had only three years to prepare the leadership to spread the Gospel.  Paul seemed to know that his time on earth was finite, so he got after it with a vengeance.  The apostle Paul sure seemed to think this way in 2 Timothy 2:2. Jesus seemed to be clear in Matthew 28:18.  But for much of my 30+ years of leadership I did not think this way.  I lead, albeit unintentionally (this is the heart of the problem!), as if I would be leading forever.  Things are different now. 

Leadership Trees


For our division, there are two simple strategies that are crucial for combating the llama: the Leadership Tree and the Second Branch Project.  Chances are you have seen the Leadership Tree, you understand the principles, and you have taught the principles.  My question is, do you actually have one yourself?  Do you have one on paper, in your Bible that you look at and pray over, or pull out at area meetings and regional retreats?  Answer:  I do.  In fact, every senior leader in our division has one and by the end of this fiscal year, every volunteer leader in the division will have one!  I might suggest, if you don’t have one in writing, it is likely that you are more susceptible to the llama than you might want to admit.

Second Branches

Second, we have intentionally expanded the influence of the Leadership Tree by identifying the “next best leadership” in the division in what we call the Second Branch Project.  Here’s the simple thinking: I am fairly confident that I will develop the people on my leadership tree (those on my “first branch").  However, those on my “Second Branch” meaning someone else’s “First Branch,” are the next, next future leaders of the mission.  The Second Branch Project is a way for our divisional team to keep in front of all of us who we see as the next best leadership in the development process.  

All of this is just another way of saying we take Jesus’ words seriously about “go and make disciples.”  In doing so, we have a very intentional system of making disciples.  It is more than having a good club,  good campaigner program, large area ministry, good numbers at camp, or a kicking region.  This involves senior leaders being good senior leaders by recognizing one day, the llama will win.  When he does, our intentionality of leadership development will be what determines how well the mission grows and expands long after we are dancing in heaven!  This is not morbid; on the contrary, this is how we should lead with the Spirit as Paul and Jesus led.  

So I say – “think about the llama...”


Dan Jessup


Want to create your own Leadership Tree?  Here's a simple download where you can make your own!

Need training on Second Branches?  Contact:  Scott Miedema -