Young people are often faced with questions about their leadership capacity. Whether it is college application essays, challenges from coaches and parents, or the opinion of society at large, teenagers are regularly encouraged to “step up” and provide leadership that they may not be fully prepared for.
The problem may be that we are not fully aware of the qualities of true leadership. We certainly know what it is not: constant whining about events that did not go our way; pointless complaints about rules we don’t like; adopting a helpless/hopeless attitude toward the big problems of the world. One cultural paradigm depicts it as grabbing the flag and racing to the mountain top shouting, “Follow me!” at the top of our lungs. But we know that is not necessarily leadership either, if the charge has no sensible purpose.
We are frequently submerged under examples of poor leadership. When professional athletes taunt their opponents or skirt the rules of their game in order to gain an advantage, we see not leadership but self-serving behavior. When politicians appeal to our prejudices or baser instincts in order to gain our support, we see not leadership but self-serving behavior. When numerous adults in responsible positions refuse to accept responsibility and instead engage in the sort of childish behavior described above, we should not wonder that young people struggle to fully understand what is expected of them.
Leadership is action with a purpose, but it is also sometimes acceptance of that which we cannot (or should not) change. It includes the ability to see what is, determine what could be, and help move events in a positive direction for the future. It’s a delicate balance that requires great circumspection. When is the right time to take aggressive action to achieve an important goal? When is the right time to encourage others to provide their special talents? When should we take a diplomatic approach? When should we volunteer to take the lead, and when should we step aside? The possibilities seem endless, and the proper path may not always be obvious. The reality is that all kinds of leaders are needed, so your special qualities are in demand somewhere.
Opportunities for leadership are ever-present in our society. Virtually every day, every person has some chance to demonstrate their capacity for leadership. Certain situations may be inconvenient to us, but that does not mean that those situations should be avoided. The key is to be willing to take the proper action when the time calls for it. Even teens have major opportunities. Every day in class, you can be the leader who contributes to activities with your personal insights and special talents. Many of you participate in extracurricular sports, where your leadership, both active and supportive, is essential to the success of the team. Some of you have jobs, where your leadership can improve a customer’s experience or help the business operate more efficiently. Being a teenager is no excuse for not providing the leadership of which you are capable.All that is required is a little bit of initiative. Look at the situations you are presented with, and take your opportunities to lead. It may be a little nerve-wracking in the beginning, but once you get used to it, it becomes a way of life. Be the leader you have the potential to be – you won’t regret it.