How to inspire a generation of young leaders

| March 10, 2017

A lot of high schools have a leadership system in place for rewarding a certain type of student – mostly those with good grades, sporting prowess and strong public speaking skills. Louisa Keck from the Reach Foundation encourages kids with leadership potential who don’t fit the stereotype of a traditional leader.

Young people already do make incredible leaders. Not yet weighed down by the realities of adulthood, they are able to dream big and have the resources and technical skills to make things happen. They also have the networks and support systems in place to help each other reach their goals, inspiring and encouraging others along the way.

I know this because I get to work with them every day, hearing their stories and watching their faces light up as they talk about their passions and the mark they want to leave on this world.

But I might not have always thought of these kids as leaders. When I was in high school, I saw leadership as a quality reserved for school captains, future CEOs or university students with political aspirations and felt entirely alienated by the idea. Like most schools, my high school had a leadership system in place for rewarding a certain type of student – mostly those with the trifecta of good grades, sporting prowess and strong public speaking skills – with positions such as prefect or school captain. As someone who was never formally acknowledged as one of these leaders, I believed I would never be one and lost interest in the process, assuming my destiny was to follow rather than to lead.

Stereotypes in leadership 

Later on, I was exposed to incredible leaders who never would have fit the stereotype of a leader that my school promoted. Instead, these people fit no stereotype – they were young mothers, hip hop artists, nurses, ex-addicts, make-up artists, motocross racers, entrepreneurs and world travellers. All that they happened to have in common was a whole lot of passion, drive and care for those around them. These were the people who inspired me to chase my dreams. I realised that real leaders were people who led inspiring lives and who encouraged and supported others to do the same.

I now work with high school students all over Victoria, running experiential workshops on topics that include self-esteem, confidence, and leadership. Unfortunately, I am not alone in my own high school experience, as I am constantly coming across young people with incredible leadership potential, who don’t quite fit the mould of the traditional school or sports captain. These leaders are everywhere – the kid who mucks around in class but would do anything for his mates, or the young woman who is bold in standing up for her beliefs and who isn’t afraid to clash horns with those who might feel differently. It is devastating to watch them doubt or question their own power, simply because those in charge seem to be blind to it. These kids – alongside all the prefects and sports captains – are our country’s future leaders, and I look forward to a world where their passion and ability is celebrated and fostered, rather than made to fit inside a box.

The leadership potential of our young people is astronomical, and yet so easily overlooked when our kids grow up in environments that promote only a tired and traditional approach to leadership, rather than places where individuals are celebrated for their passions and aspirations. Let’s work to create schools, sports clubs, universities and workplaces that build these young people up for all that they have to offer, rather than dismissing them for the standards they were never supposed to live up to anyway.

Watch out for these kids though… with the right support, they might just take over the world.

Reach is a for-purpose organisation for young people, established in 1994 by Jim Stynes OAM and Australian film director Paul Currie. Reach supports young people to get the most out of life, aiming to improve the wellbeing of participants so they can be healthy and resilient to meet life’s challenges and fulfil their potential. Last year, Reach worked with over 44,000 young people across Victoria and NSW, delivering relevant and meaningful youth-led workshops that inspire honest conversations and ignite change.