Mentoring Emerging Leaders

Leaders are held to a higher standard…

This represents an obvious statement….to adults.  But for emerging adolescent leaders, this fact is always a very difficult pill to swallow.  I have often said that the only requisite quality that all leaders must possess is that people follow them.  The reasons that people follow a leader are so varied, that my quick Google search of Leadership Qualities yielded 49 million hits in .19 seconds.

One of our responsibilities as educators is to help our students develop their strengths to the fullest, and to teach them how to use those strengths to benefit their community in positive ways.  Developing leadership is no different.  However, like an emerging math star who may show reticence in the face of increasing challenge, and thus needs adult mentoring and guidance, the emerging leader needs mentoring and guidance in facing the increasing expectations that he or she is held to a higher standard.

This week, I had a chance to sit down with a seventh grader who is undoubtedly an emerging leader in our community.  This student appeared to be on a path to life-long following as a 6th grader, but this year, he has increasingly shown a natural ability to lead, which has been manifested nicely by how willing and eager his classmates are to follow him in academic and social endeavors.

The reason for our sit down this week was that while he has shown very positive qualities in his leadership of peers, he has also shown some behavior that we do not want his classmates to emulate and imitate.  For most kids, the behaviors would be described as “little stuff”, age-appropriate “normal adolescent boy stuff”.  But for a leader, he needed to be made aware that he is held to a higher standard.  When I shared this with him, a proverbial “but this isn’t fair” look adorned his countenance.  The pill of this truth was very hard to swallow.  For some, the pill goes down even more roughly when the individual is a reluctant leader.  My conversation with this student would have been different if that were the case, but I know this student enjoys and embraces the leadership role.  As such, it is my responsibility to educate him and mentor him in his development in this role.

One word really seemed to resonate with him was we spoke. As I empathetically shared that I understood the challenge of being held to the higher standard as a leader, I explained that even though I still make mistakes that are under the higher magnification microscope, I take my role as a leader into these moments and model for people the important quality of humility in taking ownership for the mistakes.  The word ownership caused him to pause and look up at me.

One of the strengths of this student, and perhaps one of those intangibles that appeal to his peers, is that he often will learn from his mistakes and take ownership.  However, the main area he needs to work on is in always taking redirection from his teachers without the reflexive response of denial or deflection.  As we dove deeper into this topic, he began shaking his head assentingly.

The hard pill that is the higher standards leaders are held to represents a leadership lesson that all who lead need to embrace- and all who mentor young leaders need to support and guide.  Ultimately, the ownership of our behaviors reveals yet another reason people will follow us as examples for owning their own behaviors in positive and growth-minded ways.

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One thought on “Mentoring Emerging Leaders

  1. In my work as a CASA I have advised some kids that the best way to teacher approval is to acknowledge when they were wrong, in behavior or work. It builds good relations, and it can (with a good teacher) be a path to avoiding sanctions. The old phrase “needs to be taught a lesson” can have a corollary; that if the lesson is already learnt, it will only need to be reinforced if fairness in the class demands it. I recall one school report card where the PE teacher said that I did not take (verbal) correction well; I have remembered that for 50 years.

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