When adults think back to their younger days, they may be nostalgic for particular moments of their “good ‘ole days,” but few would relish reliving their adolescent years. And there’s a good reason for that. Adolescence isn’t easy. The transition into and through adolescence can be exciting but can also be a time of confusion.
During adolescence, people begin in earnest learning about the world and finding their place in it. It’s not uncommon for adolescents to be in flux through this rite of passage, grappling with insecurities and feelings of being judged.
Inspiring Young Leaders
Surviving the often angst-ridden journey of adolescence can be challenging, especially for marginalized young people. The bleak reality is that opportunity can be severely curtailed by economic and social disadvantage for that population. Additional research has found that unless steps are taken to provide guidance, those disparities experienced in adolescence—income, race, ethnicity, and gender—will continue to translate into inequality in future adult outcomes.
The late Leila Janah, the entrepreneur whose work lifted thousands of people out of poverty, summed it up by saying, “Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.”
The support of caring adults is critical to enable youth to flourish, especially for those whose childhood circumstances involved adversity or limited opportunity. Adults must orchestrate leadership development access for all youth, ensure that everyone has a voice in problem-solving and decision-making, and guide young people to practice developing their leadership skills in a safe place.
Building Stronger Communities Through Youth Leadership Development
Everyone benefits when adolescents are engaged. Opportunities for social and emotional engagement protect against mental disorders, which can begin during adolescence. If deprived of that opportunity, some young people may be drawn into antisocial behavior—such as violence, substance abuse, and extremism—that negatively impacts their health and their communities’ well-being.
As the nation grapples with a pandemic and its economic fallout, unrest around diversity, equity, and inclusion, only assisting youth in successfully reaching the finish line won’t be enough. The task, the responsibility, is to prepare the next generation to champion these crucial challenges triumphantly. Locally, multicultural youth leadership programs offer various opportunities to prepare emerging leaders to steer our communities and nation into a promising future.
Setting & Accomplishing Goals: An Important Aspect of Learning to Be a Leader
Leadership is about vision. A leader demonstrates what’s possible. Every leader’s style will be—and should be—different. It should be personal, customized to each person’s personality, strengths, and even weaknesses.
Leadership requires many skills—communication, critical thinking, decision-making, passion, energy, and commitment—but understanding how to organize one’s thoughts is the conduit to accomplishing those skills.
Research has revealed that helping young people learn how to set goals leads to becoming a peak performer in school, work, and life. Setting goals is linked to self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy.
The world is full of distractions that can make it difficult for young people to focus on long-term goals, but with the right encouragement and structure, they can learn to develop skills that will serve them well into the future.
Steering Young People Toward Leadership
Nurturing young people to become leaders also includes helping them grasp qualities that are sometimes overlooked.
To be a successful leader, a person needs to have conviction in something greater than themselves. It’s hard to get people to follow if you don’t stand for something.
While conviction is critical to leading successfully, left unchecked, it can become a leader’s biggest weakness. As history reminds us, blind conviction can be disastrous. Even the best leaders make bad decisions. Leaders exhibit a willingness to admit it if they’re wrong and change as new information becomes available that affects their decisions—and convictions.
At its core, leadership is about service, not taking credit. Humility helps keep this in check.
Good leaders lead with empathy. Leaders are not dictators and shouldn’t lead like ones. Successful leaders seek to understand challenges and ways to collaborate to craft solutions. Good leaders investigate to understand the root causes of disruption or conflict. It comes down to empathy. It is a powerful skill to be able to put oneself into another’s shoes.
Another important element is helping them understand the sometimes subtle nuances of leadership skills. For example, the challenge is to be dominant, but not rude; empathic, but not weak, and confident, but not arrogant.
There’s no magic equation to create successful leaders, but offering authentic support, honest guidance, and compassionate understanding can set young people on the path to becoming leaders. Help us develop and nurturing the next generation of leaders with the support and encouragement they need.