When I'm out working with community organizations, I hear this complaint from many local leaders: "There are no young people stepping forward to replace me on this committee!" They seem frustrated that they can't leave a community committee because there's no one to replace them. This made me wonder, is there really a leadership gap, and if so, why?
Here’s what young people said in a recent survey by the National 4-H Council:
- Most young people (81%) think leaders today are more concerned with their own agendas than with achieving the goals of their organizations.
- Seventy-six percent say leaders are focused on different priorities than what matters most to them.
- Half of youth rate government and political leaders as having weak leadership (51%), among the highest relative to other groups of leaders examined in the survey. Overall, weak leadership is related to not accomplishing what is promised (59%); not working collaboratively (56%); and not offering new solutions (53%).
- Most youth (96%) think leadership is important to addressing the country’s most pressing issues; but only one in three young people says they have the skills they need to be prepared to lead.
If this is what young people believe about community leadership, no wonder they aren't taking an interest in leadership positions!
These stats paint a picture of why they aren't stepping up. As to the perceived lack of leadership skills, a report from Karen Pittman and Shanetta Martin sheds some light. I appreciate their concept and idea around youth engagement as a strategy for community change. This is the “hook” we as adults need to use to get young people to be active participants on community boards. We need to convince them that they can make a difference, create change and have the influence they desire.
As I interact with high school youth and watch my own teens build their leadership skills, I am encouraged. The youth of today do have the skills -- they just need to be shown the difference they can make as a leader. There are multiple ways young people can learn the skills to be leaders. Schools and communities offer a variety of ways that young people can participate and learn lifelong leadership skills. As adults, we need to help show and encourage youth to join school groups or community groups and dive in to start building leadership skills.
Have you seen this problem in your community? How have you tackled it? Have you shown youth how they can become involved in their school or community? How have you supported young people in their leadership? How have you helped adults see the power of getting young people involved? Please share your stories.
-- Brian McNeill, Extension educator
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