“Excuse me sir”, one of the future leaders said, “but why should we do any of the things you are teaching us?”
The young college sophomore asked in a polite but challenging manner. He continued.
“If others are being rewarded for leading in ways that are the opposite of what you are teaching, why should we follow these leadership strategies when we start working?”
I have to admit his questions took me by surprise. The sophomore was attending a leadership development workshop I facilitated in early 2012.
The workshop focused on leadership principles such as establishing safety for work groups, rewarding good performance, leveraging strengths, and leading away from conflict. While I was prepared to answer questions about HOW to execute the strategies, I was not expecting legitimate questions that challenged the whole premise of my leadership model and asked WHY future leaders should lead differently than many current managers,
Earlier in the session, I had discussed the realities of the modern day workplace where many managers get ahead by intimidating or, at times, bullying their staff members and colleagues. I shared examples of how many managers truly believe that the best way to drive productivity is keep the staff under a constant pressure, and how many supervisors feel that recognizing good performance can lead to employees to expect praise even when they don’t deserve it.
While I thought of a way to answer the sophomore, a senior in the group asked me if he could answer. I gladly granted his request, feeling very lucky to have a chance to hear his reply and gather my thoughts.
The senior provided a very authentic answer based on a recent interview he had. He explained that the recruiters asked him specifically about his leadership training and how he would manage conflict during stressful situations.
He easily articulated how the leadership program helped him explain to the recruiters that he would be mindful not to make the conflict any worse by acting in a negative or derogatory way towards others. Instead, he would use his leadership development experience to reflect on the situation and find ways to leverage his strengths AND the strengths of others in the team to find positive ways to handle the situation.
Leadership Development Goal
I was intently watching the body language of the sophomore who looked at the senior with respect and admiration. After all, interviews and jobs are the main concerns of dedicated college students.
I felt lucky and hopeful at the same time; lucky because I am not sure I could have answered the questions as well as the senior did, and hopeful because I realized we had met our leadership development goal with at least one student.
A 20 year old senior was able to demonstrate how our material was immediately helpful to him and others in the group!
While I had very little to add after the senior answered the questions, I kept thinking about the validity of these questions. It became my focus to fine tune my leadership development curriculum to address the need for future leaders to lead differently.
Why, Not How
My curriculum for colleges and schools would now be based on the WHY, and not mostly on the HOW of leadership development.
As I thought carefully about why future leaders should lead differently, the magic of the social web helped me articulate the case. As I am sure you know by now, reports from companies like Deloitte and Gallup have published studies that illustrate some concerning issues in the workplace today.
Not only is there evidence suggesting that less than 25% of employees are passionate about their work and that disengaged employees are costing the economy up to $350 billion, evidence also shows that workplace bullying and incivility are major issues facing our workforce today.
After more than 16 years as a supervisor and years of leadership consulting, it became obvious that the case for leadership development for future leaders includes a lot more than simply preparing college students to ace their job interviews.
Superior Leadership Skills
The long term goal is much more important and difficult. Future leaders must lead the transformation of the workplace with superior leadership skills that are not common in the majority of our institutions!
As you can imagine, this effort will require young leaders to change workplace cultures from within. Our future leaders must not only be prepared to use effective leadership tools and techniques, they must understand that many of their bosses will be leading in ways that are completely opposite to what they have been taught. They will be leading against the tide.
Some bosses will be overt bullies that show no care or understanding of employee engagement and its benefits. Many others will simply be executing inferior leadership tactics that they have learned over the years and not understand what the young leaders are trying to do or why. These kind of changes require leadership development that begins early in a leader’s life.
Superior Leadership Models
In much the same way that we introduce our children to sports, we must introduce them to superior leadership models, tools and techniques that they can perfect based on their personality preferences and their strengths. This will give future leaders time to understand and prepare for the challenges they will face when they start working.
To meet the need for leadership development as early as possible, my partners and I started a campaign called #futureleaders. Our objective is to raise funds that will enable us to bring our leadership curriculum to schools and colleges without having to charge them! As you know, funding is already very tight most colleges and schools, so our hope is to remove the cost barrier to leadership development.
Learn more about #futureleaders:
While our initial goal is to start working with local schools and colleges, our vision is to eventually share this material with schools and colleges all over the country.
We would be honored if any of the readers of this blog share and/or contribute to our campaign. Any size donation will be appreciated. We are also very grateful to About Leaders for their ongoing support!
I’d Like Your Feedback
- Do you see the need for leadership development at an early age?
- How early do you feel it should begin?
- Do you agree that future leaders must approach leadership differently than many of us have in the past?
- Are you working with young students and would like to share any ideas or lessons?
If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!
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