I often wonder about the future of this country. In my observation, while we do have stellar leaders, on average our leadership leaves a lot to be desired. This is true in all fields from politics to sport to corporations.
Today, I had an experience which made me feel much better. It all began when I was invited to give a talk on leadership to kids in my sons’ school. The attendees would be about 20 boys and girls recently elected to the highest student positions that the school had to offer. They would be from grades 5 to 7 – the seniormost in the school. I was grateful to the school administration for providing me this opportunity. I began to prepare with full vigor.
I scoured the net for information on leadership programs for kids. I looked for enticing stories from the childhood of leaders to recite. I looked for fictional and non-fictional tales which would communicate the ideas. I was torn about how “adult” to treat them. After all, I had not had a serious discussion with 10-12 year old children since I was their age. I had also never held an official position in school and wondered what it felt like to hold one at such an early age.
All of the above work came to nothing. I did not find a single article/story/game which I considered useful for the exercise. I had spent a week and a half looking. Now I had one weekend left. I was nervous. I finally decided to go back to the basics – look at what had been most important to me over my career in handling the situation that these “little adults” were facing today. I came up with some very basic concepts which I decided to elucidate to the group. I wrote 7 words on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket: Character, Service-orientation, Vision, Communication, People Skills, Bravery and Capability. I decided that these were the most important characteristics that the students had to develop in order to succeed in the environment they were in – and in that order.
Still being nervous about this, I kept the paper close at hand. After the initial introductions, I asked the students about who they admired as leaders and why. I was very surprised at the answers. The three selected were Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt (no Shahrukh Khan??). The reasons, to my elation, were very eloquent and encompassed 4 of the points that I had decided to talk about. What a beginning!
From that point, it became a very interactive session with my job being to ask questions and the students, together, taking us from the point of having good character right through to being successful. They were very articulate about their individual weaknesses, as well as how eager they were to work on them. They were able to articulate the issues they were having today, and figure out what they needed to do about them. It was a very enlightening experience for me; one which I will cherish for some time to come.
So the question is why do I consider us to be in safe hands. Since children are the leaders of tomorrow, any organization would be lucky to have such students at the helm. Being so aware of the needs of leadership; of their own abilities and weaknesses; being prepared to work hard to succeed; understanding that being leaders makes their own needs the least important in the group; and having the years of experiences left to hone their skills, I would not like to bet against these people. A lot of credit, obviously, goes to the school administration for this. If this school is even slightly representative of what schools in this country are doing today, I can happily say we are in safe hands.
P.S. Never had to pull that sheet out of my pocket for the points.