While written a decade ago and before retirement, this topic remains highly relevant. It is included in my blog for that reason.
Today’s children: tomorrow’s leaders
One of the conversations I have with children, particularly older children, is to reiterate my wish that tomorrow’s world will be in the hands of fine leaders. It is suggested to children that today’s leaders while having done some good things have a lot to learn about the best way forward in leadership terms. Without hiding reality, I discuss with them the things I believe today’s leaders do well and things that could be done better.
Understanding the world in which we live
It is necessary for children as they are pointed toward the future, to understand the world in which they live, so far as that is possible. It is also important they understand those traits and strengths of character that are going to be needed in order that leaders are fine and upstanding. To raise these subjects in conversation with children is not to ‘put the wood’ on people as individuals who are making a contribution to leadership in today’s world – rather to talk with them about those qualities and attributes that need to be inherent in people who are leaders.
As one grows older, one has the opportunity to sit back and study leadership philosophy and the way people have developed as leaders (part of this is self-reflection and studying one’s own philosophy in relation to leadership strategy). Coupled with should be a willingness to change and to do things differently. In leadership terms, it is apparent this should be the case.) I think it appropriate to make some value judgments about the positives and negatives of leaders and leadership notwithstanding it is from a subjective viewpoint. Underpinning this is a personal belief that too often leaders act for individual and possibly sectional good rather than for the good of the society in an overall context. I would like to see in leaders unequivocal honesty, ethical and social responsibility. The qualities that tend to tarnish leadership are those attributes that hang on nepotism, favoritism and differentiation in treatment of people within society by way of their origins, ethnicity and their sociological backgrounds.
Student leadership at Leanyer School through the involvement of children as elected leaders has always firmly stressed the foregoing attributes. Our primary school has had a student council for the past 19 years. Additionally, we have very strong school houses promoting sport and other accomplishments which are led by house captains and vice-captains. We have a fine history of student leadership, with many of our student leaders going on to great accomplishments in life. It isn’t the purpose of this paper to self promote in that context but rather to uphold those attributes that can be positively inherent in organisations supporting young people so they develop those leadership qualities and characteristics that will stand themselves and society in good stead. Should readers wish for more details about our programs, we are contactable through our website:http://www.schools.nt.edu.au/leanyer.
If people are compartmentalised by those in leadership positions, this leads to a fracturing of perceptions held by some within the wider social context toward others within the same environment. The ‘worth’ of people and the regard held for them should not be influenced by race, colour or creed.
The number one issue that needs to be instilled within students (who will become tomorrow’s leaders) is the fact that everybody is equal: part of this is an expectation that everyone will be recognised for the rights they have along with an expectation they will fulfill their responsibilities and obligations towards society.
Traditionalism should not be abrogated
I wonder as an educator whether we should be ‘challenging traditional ways of doing things to empower and build confidence in young people’ to the extent this seems to be happening. There are, in my opinion, real issues confronting students these days that go to the notion of both their thinking and their communications skills. We have a world that is hanging on technological devices and appears to be supplicating our mentality to this technology. Is this wise?
At the risk of being ‘stand-alone’ (and there is plenty of opposition to my position) I suggest that there need to be limits and boundaries set on the amount of exposure young people have to technological devices to ensure thinking and reasoning are not supplanted. Furthermore, the devotion that appears to be held for and toward devices is often an escape into fantasy and fiction. We talk about the fact technology is an aid to learning and conveniently overlook the amount of time children spend unproductively engaged in pursuing games and other entertainment offering instant gratification and little more. So it is a case of the children and young people who are going to be tomorrow’s leaders ‘tuning out and switching off’. While people engaged with children who are focused computer technology in classrooms would be quick to deny frivolous usage, the fact remains that great deal of engagement with technology is of a non-educational nature.
Old-fashioned listening and speaking
One of my beliefs regarding the development of young people toward their future destiny is that they need continued immersion in traditional learning processes, which equates to old-fashioned “chalk and talk”. Children need to become skilled communicators in a variety of contexts not just than having their fingers walk across keyboards. If they are to develop as leaders their leadership skills, in my opinion, will not manifest positively if they are about Facebook, Twitter and other non-face-to-face communication methodologies.
Children need to be developed as confident communicators able to speak face-to-face accurately, clearly, cogently, and politely. They also need to be careful listeners, able to hear and respond to viewpoints held by others. They need to develop skills that go to their consideration of messages rather than an attack upon messengers.
Possibly the most vital skill that young leaders and agents of change need to develop is that of ‘listening and speaking’. Associated with this are elements of speech and speaking that including eye contact, careful vocalisation (pitch, rhythm, pronunciation and clarity) and gesture.
The aligned communication skills of reading and writing are equally important. While modernists de-emphasise the printed word and writing according to skills of the past (including grammar, punctuation, paragraphing and spelling), I do not believe for a moment that our present generation of students would in any way be ready to take on leadership positions in tomorrow’s world without these skills being part of their communications repertoire. The online conference paper circulated prior to this conference had as one of its points for consideration the notion of student voice being ‘… genuinely sought and honoured’. For this to happen I believe communications skills and capacities have to be of the highest order. Nobody is going to seek and value the oral or written word of people if their presentation is substandard. That is certainly not the thing upon which future leadership can be hinged. Without doubt, communication skills of young leaders and agents of change need to be of the highest order. To that end, retention and reinforcement of old-fashioned teaching pedagogy is paramount.
Leaders should consider others
A paramount skill young leaders as future change agents need to develop is that of empathy. Genuine leaders consider the needs of others: They put others before themselves.
The world is full of leaders whose leadership is perceived as being about smoothing the individual way of the leader and his or her close associates. While those who put themselves forward to fill leadership roles outline what they will do in socio-economic and political context, so often there seems to be non-delivery by those elected or chosen when it comes to delivery of outcomes. That is hardly surprising: In fact it is normative for promises to be made, then broken!
These days television and print advertising uphold the benefits and advantages of putting ‘me first’! Stories in the media are often about people who are ‘me, me, me’! In the sporting domain individualism is upheld as being paramount and teamship is often downplayed. In political and economic terms there is often a mad scramble for ascendancy with ranking and pecking order being a prime focus.
This I think is a sad commentary on what leadership is about. Historical stories include recognition of those leaders who have put others before themselves. (Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln are three standout leaders in this regard.) However, there are myriads of leaders whose records if examined would confirm that ‘self’ definitely rated above ‘others’ in consideration terms. Similarly, in all areas of occupation we run into the same situation. While ambition is commendable, the willingness of leaders to lead for others in a selfless context is to be lauded. This does not mean that those who lead should be doormats but it does suggest leadership must have a genuine concern for the group being led.
Young people are impressionable and malleable. Many will make fine leaders in the years to come.
It would be nice to think we are working to develop them in a way that will lead to them being fulfilled as leaders through considered service to others. If we are able to develop young people in this direction then the world will be a better place for the contribution they make.