go extra mile when things not going well; take initiative, guide group through task; lead the effort; take control, give honest feedback–without anger, be trustworthy
give voice to voiceless; communicate appreciation; think of others first, help them be better; guide, support, be an example; be a leader, which is different from being a boss; take care of others, take responsibility
trust others; want what’s best for majority; unite the group, be one of them, be experienced
These are my notes from conversations with teenagers (high school juniors). I asked them what makes a good leader, or what does the word “leadership” mean to them. My notes record the gist of their answers. Personally and professionally, I feel grateful to see the patterns in their thinking.
First, these students, who have been my advisees for two and half years, see leaders as people who make the extra effort. They push themselves forward in some way, in order to guide the group. Even, or maybe especially, when things are not going well, leaders are the ones who step forward to help improve the situation. They take control, perhaps giving feedback to the group or to individuals about what actions would make the group stronger and more productive. According to the students, leaders do all of this in a way that can be trusted, in part because they guide and provide without anger.
The second constellation of comments shows these students see leaders as people who think of others before themselves. They want to help everyone become a better person, or better at their particular task or role. A leader takes care of other people–for example, by giving voice to the voiceless. Though a leader needs the ability to step forward when necessary, he or she also needs to step back, in order to hear and appreciate other voices. The strongest leaders also communicate that appreciation, so that people feel supported by someone with experience and empathy. In short, being a leader is different from just being a boss.
Finally, leaders of groups truly trust the other members of that group. They don’t pretend to trust, or simply say they do, but actually demonstrate trust–for example, by giving others significant responsibilities. Motivated by wanting what’s best for the majority, a good leader unites the group. And uniting the group means the leader is part of it, not just in charge of it. When the leader speaks and acts from experience, the other members of the group can trust her or him.
Again, I am grateful for and excited by the students who shared these thoughts. As an elder, I am encouraged by the solid ideas they have about effective leadership. Their ideas help me consider the leader roles I take on. Their thoughts also convince me that leaders appear in many arenas in many ways. Just because you are in a position of public authority or responsibility does not mean you are a leader. By the same token, you do not have to be in such a position to lead.
Thank you, Advisees! Feel free to leave a comment.