By Amanda Thiebaud Horn
What does it mean to be a young leader? Leadership is more than a word; it is a concept that often eludes us. To be a great leader means honing the ability to look at a situation from the outside in, to see the big picture and evaluate how all the pieces of that picture fit together. Leadership is both an innate character quality and a developed skill. As a young person, it can often seem both a burden and a gift to be a “natural born leader.” On one hand, you are naturally skilled at problem solving and a sharper critical thinker than most. On the other, you can be bossy and overbearing in your “rightness.” That’s the folly of youth. Often, young leaders are full of energy and eager to put that energy to work to effect change. However, sometimes the responsibility can be too much to shoulder. The solution? Embrace your natural ability, know that leadership is a skill to be developed over a lifetime, and approach learning with humility.
Dr. Kathy Geller, Educational Leadership and Management professor at Drexel University and AYLP 2013 guest teacher, says the key to leading others begins with a thorough understanding of who you are. “Ask yourself, ‘How do I show up? What do I need to know? ’ Approach your situations through a lens of respect and inquiry.”
Effective communication comprises the cornerstone of successful leadership, a fact that can be especially challenging when radically different cultures converge. Bridging cultural gaps can only be achieved through an open understanding, through letting go of your “rightness.” A respectful, deep appreciation for knowing that you do not know or understand everything gives you the openness necessary to transform into a successful global leader, if only for a summer.
“What do I have to let go of, from a judging standpoint?” Geller prompts us to ask. “When you’re at the margin, you have to know what you don’t know,” she states. And you have to be comfortable with that unknown.
The Algerian Youth Leadership Program provides young leaders the amazing opportunity to approach the margin from both sides. The young Algerian leaders experience a new country, a new culture. But the young Nevada students joining them stand on the fringe as well. Together, these lucky participants have the unique chance to come before one another and let go of knowing, to learn more about themselves in the face of one another. Not only will this make them better leaders, but better humans as well.