A few weeks ago I was invited to a weekend camp in the middle of the woods to speak to a group of students who are part of the Youth Leadership Society of British Columbia. These youth spent their weekend pitching tents, attending workshops and brainstorming ideas for how to turn their dream projects of helping others, including the environment, into reality. It was a classic case of youth leading youth. During my workshop I was able to share my own leadership journey with kids ranging in age from 12 to 18. With that many youth leaders and potential leaders in the room the energy was palpable. These weren't kids who needed motivating or coaxing into the world of advocating for causes they felt passionate about; this was a case of young people looking for ways to help see their dreams realized and looking for suggestions about how they could implement the action portions of their projects.
Having been exposed to so many great leaders in my own life I reminded this group that "great leaders don't set out to be leaders, they set out to make a difference". I asked them to think about people in their own lives who they considered to be leaders. In almost every case it was "ordinary" people in their lives who had gone to extraordinary lengths to make these kids feel special or appreciated: a teacher, a friend, a parent. I encouraged them to remember to turn to those people in their lives for feedback, for advice, for ideas and for encouragement. Afterall, it's not the people in our lives with the most celebrity, the most trophies or the most money who make a difference in the world. If you can find a passion, imagine the possibilities and imagine a positive future you can be a great leader. Leadership isn't about personality, it's about behaviour.
Leadership can be very personal. One person's idea of what makes a great leader may not be someone else's idea of what a good leader looks like. And the road to leadership can look very different as well. For some it's an accidental journey while for others it's quite deliberate. Regardless of which road you take you have to keep in mind that people won't believe in your message unless they believe in the messenger. You're going to have to have some qualities like integrity, forward thinking, competence and the ability to inspire in order to become a leader and see your projects realized. As is often the case after attending a presentation like this, I walked away feeling inspired and fortunate to meet so many other youth who feel passionately about so many different causes but most importantly, I felt encouraged about the future and the possibilities that I'm certain so many of these youth will see realized.