As youth work practitioners, there is some level of dichotomy in the leadership development outcomes we wish to see in our youth, and the ways in which we try to develop these outcomes. While we wish to empower them for positive youth influence and outcomes regardless of their operating environments (school, community, future workplaces, causes etc) the youth are in, we very often defer to very niche and compartmentalised tracks to nurture traits in these future changemakers.
“You run leadership training for all youth?”
“Why do they (underserved youth communities) need leadership training?”
“Leadership doesn’t need to be for all. If everyone leads, who follows?”
No doubt, there’s still a notion that one’s ability to create change is still very much hinged on his or her access to positions of power. In organisations and workplaces, it is these positions and titles that give people “legitimacy” to create change. But the new times of today require us to understand and appreciate the blurred line within our organisation and community systems, where positions of influence account for just as much power (if not more) than what formal positions of power can provide.
It is through this new world lens in which modes such as ‘reality tv’ and ‘authentic social influencers’ (both quite oxymoronic, in my opinion) have thrived, and this lens will continue to change the way we see and access influence for the future.
Our team at Halogen has long been enraptured with the notion of seeing leadership development through an influence lens and investing in youth from all walks to develop the traits of an ‘everyday leader — individuals who understand their personal influence and exercise it responsibly to benefit a community beyond themselves. Taking the idea of leadership off it’s pedestal and giving it a more commonplace access, we believe everyday leaders will truly change the world, and here’s why:
1. ‘Everyday’ moments are the best classrooms for developing strong character
In the course of inspiring young people to step up, dream big and to model after aspirations and achievements of great leaders — we sometimes neglect to give them enough validation and emphasise enough of being able to do the everyday (and sometimes small) things well. Honouring a commitment made to a project or event; speaking encouragement to a friend who is struggling through his own mess; removing stray trash that will get in someone else’s way. These everyday moments are often so unnoticeable and seemingly insignificant.
But what we give our attention to, inadvertently become the anchors in which we define our values, meaning and worth. As former American basketball player John Robert Wooden once said, ‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are…the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.’.
An everyday leadership act may not get you the recognition of the big deeds, but the small actions are the best practice to build character muscle. In times of turbulence and pressure, the greatest leaders are those who can draw upon this strong foundation to do the right things, do things right and hold strong in the face of turbulence. When a strong wind storm hits, only the trees with deep roots remain anchored to the ground.
2. ‘Everyday’ moments train for leadership mindset
Leadership content can be easily imparted by structuring frameworks and materials for instruction, but developing a sense for spotting leadership needs and nuances comes from the deeper work of cultivating mindsets and building perspective.
Some of the best leaders I have had the privilege to know, are the ones who just have a knack for turning difficult situations into ones of opportunity and hope— in spite of the odds, despite not holding formal title to take charge. The quality that stands out in them, is their ability and mindset to always seek to leave the other person better off, and bring new perspective to positively turn the situations before them.
It is a pressing need for our youth to develop this lens, for the world that they are growing in will only experience greater V.U.C.A. Young people will find that they have to constantly weigh on how to respond to complex situations — having a sensitive conversation with someone who is struggling with mental health issues, interacting with colleagues from starkly different walks of life, navigating potentially difficult conversations relating to family, marriage and inclusion.
The everyday moments cannot be easily dismissed or ignored, neither can we exhaustively teach young people how to respond to each and every type of situation that emerges. Our youth will have to acquire skills of adaptive empathy, understanding and discernment to navigate the challenges before them. But first, the leadership mindset in approaching these everyday situations needs to be built right.
3. ‘Everyday’ leadership moments impact us more than we think
If you were asked to share the most significant memories of what someone did that changed your life or perspective positively, chances are it is the everyday moments that matter the most to you. Stories of Nelson Mandela’s fight for freedom, Malala Yousafzai’s Peace Prize Speech, even when KPop Band BTS spoke at the UN — significant milestones as they may be, will not be the cherished and pivotal moments you reminisce at your deathbed.
A socially isolated elder will remember the friend who blessed him with the gift of time and companionship. A shy teen will remember the friend who first integrated her into a college group and helped her build meaningful lifetime friendships. You will remember the trusted confidante who pulled you back from the brink, when he gave timely encouragement when you needed it most.
These are the everyday heroes who had the choice to act otherwise, but took up a step to make our days better through their actions. Though without formal position or title, their gestures leave the most profound and personal impact on us — both practically and in our inner convictions and experiences of society. These acts of influence sometimes leave the most indelible marks on our lives, beyond what the movements of #metoos can bring.
At the end of the day, I’m not asking us to deny formal titles and rebel against structure and positions to take up the ‘everyday’. But I am saying we need to consider broadening our definition of what leadership looks like and where it shows up.
If truly everyday leadership is so ubiquitous and essential, it begs the question we started out with — should we rethink the level of dichotomy we ought to have (or rather, not have) in our attempts to develop our youth?
If we start to build leadership tenets into the ‘everyday’ person and moments, will we start to see a bigger shift in the impact of positive influence in the community and society at large? Truly, if we all start by taking one small everyday leadership action, the world would instantly be in a better place, won’t it?
p.s. Halogen runs an award yearly to recognise young everyday leaders in our midst and bring their stories to the fore. The nine 2018 stories are up, check them out and vote for your favourite one at bit.ly/votenyla2018.