21st-Century Skills for Youth: Leadership

In one of our previous blogs, we talked about several crucial skills in the 21st century that modern youth simply cannot do without. We based those ideas not just on their value to youth when it comes to building a career in the future, but also because of their inherent good value for young people on a journey of growth and development.

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on one of those skills in particular, and that is leadership. What do we mean when we talk about students learning leadership skills? Why are these skills important?

What is “Leadership”?

In the context of education and skills, leadership is the ability to step up and lead a group or team in a constructive and effective manner. It also refers to those abilities and traits that see students stand up for their beliefs, take care of others in their family and wider community, and take the initiative to act when they discover a problem that they might be able to help solve. Above all, leadership is about responsibility; taking responsibility and acknowledging your own faults when they emerge.

Why Does “Leadership” Matter to Young People as a 21st-Century Skill?

To “learn leadership” might seem a contradictory of conflicting idea in the minds of many because in our lives, leaders always seem to be in such a tiny minority. The leader of a group of people is often characterized by being a single individual. What value is there, then, for the other members of a group? In fact, leadership has much more to offer because leadership skills don’t require you to be a “leader” in the sense of having your own team. We are, however, all of us the leaders of our own lives.

1. Leadership Skills Help Youth to Adapt

The world appears to be changing at an unprecedented pace. With effective leadership skills, young people are better able to adapt. Being a good leader is being able to find the positives in any situation; the silver lining in the cloud, as it were. A leader knows that every crisis and difficulty is an opportunity, and the same can be said of change, which a leader sees as a chance for growth.

2. Leadership Teaches Youth to Speak Up and Act

Leaders are those who don’t just sit idly by and allow others to dictate to them. They are people with questions, doubts, and other thoughts and concerns that they are willing to vocalize. Teaching young people to speak up, offer thoughts and ideas, and then take initiative to find and enact solutions to problems is a wonderful skill. 

3. Leaders Can Challenge the Status Quo

Things don’t just change and progress because you want them to. There have to be leaders with the vision and courage to challenge the status quo and point out constructive ways in which we can make changes to it and better our society. If we want to ensure that this will continue to happen in the future, then we need young learners now to get well-versed in leadership and what it means to be a leader.

4. Leadership Skills Prepare Young People for a Successful Career

Of course, even when you’re well-armed with positive leadership traits, you’re not likely going to walk out of college into a senior executive role. You would still have to work your way up, but when you are equipped with leadership skills, the other leaders in whatever company you work for will see them too. Strong leaders recognize those positive traits in others and will single those people out for advancement.

5. Leadership Skills Drive and Inspire Youth to Do More

Finally, the value of leadership as a skill can be seen in how it pushes and drives young people to and achieve more in life. Strong leaders know that saying “that’ll do” just won’t do. They want to push forward and continue to progress, better themselves and do more with themselves. If we want our world to move forward, we need a generation of youth that possesses these traits.

How Can Youth Learn Leadership Skills?

So, how can we instill these skills of leadership within our young people? How can we show them and teach them how to become better leaders? As with many things, an active approach to leadership learning is the best way. It’s a fact that no student will learn to understand or appreciate leadership simply from reading books.

1. Experiential Learning

Taking part in special programs designed to “learn by doing” are a terrific way for young people to learn about leadership. In the world of adults, these kinds of activities are sometimes organized as training days, or team-building activities. The fact is that even the most seemingly simplistic activity can have some important lesson about leadership.

For instance, a simple game of tug-of-war is an interesting (and fun) way of demonstrating how leaders need to be as involved with the team’s efforts to gain a win as any other member of that team. They can’t stand to the side and watch as their team crumbles against a stronger set of opponents.

2. Sports

Sports, too, demonstrate very effectively the virtues of leadership. Within a match, there is a need for strategy and coordination. Each person learns valuable leadership traits, whether they are the team captain or a regular team member. Leadership is about responsibility, playing your part and knowing what needs to be done. Sports are the perfect engine through which to learn about these things.

3. After-School Activities

If a student or group of students sees a need for an after-school club, then they could show leadership skills and take the initiative to set it up. While running or helping to run an after-school activity, young people continue to learn about leadership as they work to make the club attractive to other students, as well as a productive use of their time.

4. Community Service

Another great engine for generating leadership skills in students is for them to get involved in volunteering and other community service work. Many see community service as a form of punishment. This is not the “leadership” attitude, however. A true leader will learn the value of community service, and then share that with others. Being a force for good in the community is a major trait of an effective leader.