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Mentoring young people to lead

By Brian McNeill

Mentoring from a caring adult can make a huge difference to a young person’s development as a future leader. The lucky ones among us can point to a time when a piano teacher, someone in church, neighbor or teacher took the trouble to give us guidance and pass along some leadership skills. These “relational role models” are critical to developing leadership skills, particularly during adolescence.

I benefited from the mentorship of a variety of adults as a young person, and I’m now on the Minnesota 4-H citizenship and leadership team. Our county ambassador program engages youth in leadership in their local areas. Our team includes 4-H county program coordinator and an adult volunteer, and we hope to engage more leadership mentors to work with the ambassadors.

This is not just a nice thing to do. Studies show that humans learn from good role models. The National Resource Center for Youth Development  encourages youth to be involved in programs fostering positive leadership development that prepare them to work in partnership with adults. Leadership development prepares youth to manage their time well, work as a team, set goals, start conversations, facilitate meetings and make effective presentations.

Consultant Janita Jesseramsing Andersen, who writes for “The Leader In Me” blog, provides us these steps to remember:
  • Teach and model leadership skills such as empathic listening, problem solving, working in teams, resolving conflicts, and appreciating people’s differences.
  • Help them take more ownership for learning and behavior choices by setting and tracking their own goals.
  • Let them serve or mentor other students.
  • Give them specific responsibilities to make a difference. Think in terms of leadership roles that allow them to help others, make a contribution, and feel a sense of purpose.
Non-parental adults have the ability to see opportunities for young people. These adults often encourage young people to enroll in a leadership experience. This type of encouragement helps a young person to become a participant in a leadership program. Knowing the young person's interest, non-parental adults can encourage them to participate in leadership opportunities.

From my experience, I really see a need of youth learning skills from adults other than their parents. Adults in the community need to find time and work with youth to help them develop their leadership skills. I would like to challenge that youth professions should not remove themselves from direct youth work, but find ways youth can learn from you as a leader.  What are your leadership skills you could share with youth and as a youth worker how could you share them?

-- Brian McNeill, Extension educator

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  1. Thanks for this blog on mentoring. I really like the point you made about the importance of relational role models. In graduate school, I was introduced to the concept: pedagogical relationship. The literature indicated that the most important element in a classroom learning environment was the pedagogical relationship between teacher and student. That idea has really stuck with me and it has influenced my thinking on the roles that adults can play in both out-of-school time settings and in schools. So as I read your piece on mentoring, I see where leadership skills can be developed through adult-youth relationships along with a host of other skills.

    Thanks for sharing your scholarship!

  2. What a great reminder Brian! I think we sometimes forget how much of a role model we are to youth as a youth worker, even if much of our work is with the volunteers we work with.

    Your blog also reminded me how important it is for our volunteers to understand that role as well. Too often I have seen committees offer to include youth in their leadership work, but then give them grunt work or token leadership roles. In our role as youth workers (staff and volunteer), as important as our programmatic work and oversight is, it is equally important to incorporate the extra time in our work to guide youth in meaningful and authentic leadership roles. Your blog provides excellent suggestions to work towards this! Thank you!


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