Youth Leadership: Reasons for Hope, Reasons for Concern
Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm
Barry Posner and I are currently at work on The Student Leadership Challenge to be released later this year. It is an uplifting and gratifying experience to read the Personal Best Leadership stories from some truly extraordinary college-age leaders. Many stories rival any that we have gathered from even the most experienced executives. It should give all of us reason for hope and optimism about our future.
While working on the book this morning, I received an email from Amy Packard, our publicity manager at Jossey-Bass. She sent along a link to an article in The Washington Post about the Marshall High girls' basketball team in Falls Church, Virginia. The article reports that “Each Marshall player has spent about 10 hours this season studying leadership handouts, evaluating teammates and themselves on leadership skills and discussing aspects of leadership in meetings with Coach Noel Klippenstein.” Wow. Ten hours in a season is more than most corporations spend with their supervisors talking about leadership. Part of their reading, we are proud to report, is The Leadership Challenge. Thank you, coach, for introducing leadership to our leaders of the future.
It’s extremely heartening to hear coach Klippenstein say that "Any coach who is waiting for a leader to emerge is waiting for second place to happen…I feel pretty strongly about that. Leaders are made. So if there's some mentorship and some guidance, then [they] can be much greater leaders." She gets it. Coaches all across the country should take heed. In research by Public Allies a few years back, 26% of 18 to 30 year-olds identified “teachers and coaches” as their primary source of leader role models. Among that same group, 40% selected “family members” as the place they look for the best examples of leadership. Leadership is everyone’s business, and young people are more likely to turn to their family, teachers, coaches, and others close to them for leadership examples than they are to look to senior corporate executives, politicians, military officers, or others. Young people are also eager learners about leading once they understand that leadership is something they, too, have the capacity to exhibit. Sophomore point guard Theresa Hackett put it this way: "At first it seemed like, 'Oh, we have to read this whole packet?' But I think it really does help everyone to get understanding. It kind of motivates you: Okay, I want to be this person that they say is the ideal leader.”
Three cheers for Coach Klippenstein. Three cheers for the Marshall High girls' basketball team. Three cheers for our youth leaders.
According to a survey released in December 2007 by Junior Achievement and Deloitte, “The majority of teens surveyed (71 percent) say they feel fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce. Yet 38 percent of that group believe it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of all teens surveyed think cheating on a test is acceptable on some level, and more than half of those teens (54 percent) say their personal desire to succeed is the rationale.” Yikes. It certainly gives me pause…and wonder what the parents, teachers, coaches, and peers of these kids are talking about — or not talking about — at home and at school to give kids the impression that cheating is a route to success. Don’t they know that 88% of people say they want leaders who are honest? Don’t they know that integrity is the number one most universally positive quality people look for in leaders? Don’t’ they know that credibility is the foundation of leadership? I guess not.
It depresses me that we have failed to communicate clearly to one hundred percent of our young people that honesty and integrity are cornerstones in the foundation of leadership…and absolutely essential to long term personal success. This is why I am renewing my commitment to youth leadership development in 2008. From reading the Personal Best stories of our young leaders, there is so much reason for hope and optimism, but we still have much work to do. And yet, that is all the more reason to be optimistic. We know that leadership makes a difference and that the more time we spend engaging others in learning to lead the more likely it is that they will become better leaders.
Let’s celebrate the Noel Klippenstein’s of the world and vow to join them in their efforts to develop the emerging leaders of tomorrow.