Thursday 15 October 2015

Leadership in the youth

Developing leadership traits among the youth of South Africa is a critical requirement in order to produce the next generation of leaders. This is true of all fields. No matter what the endeavour or environment, be it government, the corporate world, in communities or individual entrepreneurship - the country needs those who are equipped to take central roles in guiding us into the future.

Why is youth leadership so important?

It has been shown time and again that developing leadership among the youth makes a significant contribution to community development. Youths with leadership skills are generally better able to make a difference in solving community problems and these people are more likely to participate in civic activities1.

The development of leadership also has a great effect on the individual. Leadership is comprised of natural talent combined with learned skills. These skills include goal-setting, problem solving and sensible decision making2. It’s obvious that these traits are of great benefit to the individuals in any endeavours that they undertake. In other words, there is an overlap between leadership and personal success. Youths who have competent leadership skills show higher career aspirations, increased self-esteem and improve school performance and completion rates3.

Nurturing leadership thus benefits the individual, the community and society as a whole, in a variety of way.

Nurturing leadership traits in the youth

Nascent leadership traits often emerge by themselves, which is what allows educators to identify those individuals. But developing leadership takes more than just a natural aptitude.

Developing leadership traits in the youth is something that involves a multitude of people surrounding the individual – family, teachers, youth workers and the broader community. All of these ideally need to work together to produce healthy, successful adolescents with leadership skills.

One of the more successful methods of developing leadership in youth is the incorporation of service projects into the school curriculum. This allows learners to get a taste of making an active contribution to the community and allows them to see what they have learnt being put into action, along with the results that ensue.

Leadership role models in South Africa

Of course when we look at the role models that have and are having an influence on the youth of South Africa, one name stands head and shoulders above the rest: Nelson Mandela. So much has been written about the many ways in which he has been and is a role model for not only the youth of the country, but the country at large.

However, many more role models are needed in all spheres of society, particularly in the home environment and the surrounding local community. In other words, grass roots leadership is always needed to guide the development of the youth. General violence, violence in families, and violence against women and children are particularly acute problems in South Africa. This illustrates the other side of the coin – the effect of the lack of good role models in the family environment, especially with the number of absent or violent fathers, and the number of child-headed homes that exist in our communities.

If one reads articles about successful South Africans, one finds great diversity in whom the individuals name as their role models. Some were inspired by well-known figures, like Steve Jobs and Adrian Gore of Discovery. Others were inspired by role models more close to home, like their parents. Still others are inspired by ordinary South Africans, while others have mentors specific to their careers.

What emerges from this is that anyone can be a role model. These don’t have to be luminous figures; it can be anyone who displays admirable qualities that others, particularly young people, emulate. The lesson for South Africans is that each of us in our own lives can end up being role models for the youth, which is why it is important to provide the kind of example that is worth following.

Let’s start a conversation. Let me know what you think here or connect with me on Twitter (@EduloanSA)


1. O'Brien & Kohlmeier, 2003
2. MacNeil 2000
3. Bloomberg, Ganey, Alba, Quintero, & Alcantara, 2003

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