Youth Leadership: Meaning and Impact

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The Youth Day holiday on 12th March got me reflecting about this category of our population. According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Youth is defined as those persons within the ages of 15 to 24 years. Reading further, I noted the many attributes that characterise Youth in one way or another. I will share some of the words, that relate to the Youth, which I have encountered as Coach. These are: Authenticity, Courage, Engaging, Fearless, Ambitious, Energetic, Confident, Visionary, Zealous, Willing to Learn, Humble, Decisive, Optimistic, Goal oriented, Progressive, Trustworthy, Supportive, Good Communicator, Just, Unbiased, Planner, Yearning. The list goes on.

I coach Youths occasionally in groups. I know that potentially young people can be a force for good. What I have also found is that some of these attributes above are latent, some must be learned, and others must be cultivated and nurtured. Young people are vocal and speak their mind on many issues. They also exhibit high levels of energy almost without exception. This level of assertiveness is a good motivator; if it can be harnessed. As a coach my role is to allow them to speak their truth and then challenge them to commit and action. Those of you who have mentored Youth as parents, teachers or on the job training know that there is some distance between the confidence they have and levels of skills at hand; or levels of knowledge v ability to learn and competently get things done.

As coach or mentor, I know that what young people need or want is to be heard and to be given the opportunity to have a go at something.  In the real world there are challenges for them to get their way. The real world requires them to have those tradable skills that an employer wants to use. There are no favours. Even when you have acquired the necessary skills you have to start from somewhere, usually at the beginning (the bottom). This calls for humility. Even when Youths choose to start a business for self-employment, somehow you and the business must start at the genesis of the business cycle. In other words, young people must understand that there is no shortcut in the world out there. There is just a whole lot of opportunities for those that want to get ahead. This calls for willingness to learn (patience).

I gave my coaching group a task to resolve a very real situation facing them. They needed to come up with real life solutions which they could also try out for themselves. These were my observations: Engaging: They were able to quickly rally around the problem with enthusiasm to find a solution that works for them. Character-driven: The options shortlisted were not out of character. These students are daring and demanding…and unrealistic. Decisive: They were unable to decidedly agree on a singular answer but were able to come down with several viable options. Like goal setting, much more information is required to arrive at realistic assumptions. Information Seeking and Awareness were not apparent, maybe because there was limited time?

Planner, Good communicator: This art is acquired and learned. Young people must accept continuous learning at every opportunity. It also implies the need for leadership. Yearning and Visionary are leadership qualities and, unfortunately, I did not get a sense of emergence of a leader in the exercise.  Such a leader would have focussed on the bigger picture and asked questions that would motivate and drive the team to resolve the problem at hand in the best way possible.

The seeming lack of leadership translated into sub-optimal use of the knowledge and data available to them. Leadership is situational sometimes. Without appointment, it goes to the one who seems to understand the situation better and can verbalise effectively what needs to get done.  Such a person must articulate the clarity of your consciousness, and rally everyone around it.  This didn’t happen. Leadership did not come through in the decisions that were made in the exercise. The energy was quickly dissipated with no leader to harness it.

This was a great learning moment for the group. With little time to spare, we were able to critique what happened and what should have been done better. Youth often are in clusters and getting teams to work can be counter-productive if they have no idea what to do or have no appreciation of the resources that they hold in their hands. Those naturally occurring teams are a good place to learn and practice: decision making using decision making trees; leadership; awareness; realistic alignment of self and environment etc., a lot of the challenges they will encounter in the real world are represented in the diversity of those clusters. Situational Leadership, environmental awareness and emotional intelligence, communication, are some of the skills they must harness whether to run their own businesses or working with others.

The Author is a Blogger, Life and Performance Coach

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