Teen View of Leadership From Around the World

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It has been stated that the world of tomorrow will be shaped by the leaders of today. This is certainly true when you stop to think that the great leaders of the past, Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, and Reagan did not get to see the lasting impact their leadership had on the future.

With this in mind I began to contemplate what the world would look like long after my generation has turned over the reigns of leadership to the next. I determined the best way to peer into the future would be to talk to tomorrow's leaders - which are today's youth.

In order to get a world view, I decided to talk with youth from around the world. I arranged interviews with five exchange students in the United States as part of Rotary International's student exchange program.

The 17-year-old students included Nina, a German learning about Canada; Alex, the guy with the infectious smile from Australia; Morris, from Turkey, getting adjusted after only a couple of days in the US; Marco, learning the concept of "snow days" - something he never had in his home country of Ecuador; and Anton, although the same age as the rest, already for college due to the shorter school life in his native Philippines.

It was immediately surprising that despite the diversity of each of the countries - in economy, climate, politics, and geography - the four youth had an amazing similar concept of what makes someone a leader, and how to best use leadership ability.

Each looks for similar traits in the leaders they will follow:

* Social skills: A leader must be kind, understanding, and empathetic.

* Hands-on approach: Leaders must lead by example.

* Deal with stress. A leader must stay calm in difficult situations.

* Communicate. Great leaders connect people with their vision.

* Listen. To lead, one must hear what the followers are saying.

* Exude confidence. Leaders need to believe in what they say/do.

* Ethical. Leaders need to be worthy of trust.

So who are the leaders these leaders of tomorrow look up to? Alex was the fastest to answer this question with his ideal leader: Gandhi. He admires the way Gandhi did what was right, leading by the example of a selfless life.

Morris admires Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919. Following a series of impressive victories against all odds, he led his nation to full independence. He put an end to the antiquated Ottoman dynasty whose tale had lasted more than six centuries - and created the Republic of Turkey in 1923, establishing a new government truly representative of the nation's will. As Morris says, "He made a country from a collapsed country, and then made it a modern country."

Nina turns to literature for the leader she admires - a little girl called Momo from a story. She is poor and lives all by herself. Her friends seem to be lost when she is not around. When they want to talk to her about their problems, she listens to them and helps them figure out the solutions for themselves.

Marco and Anton both admire relatives when they think of the greatest leaders. Their mother and grandfather both know what to do in tough situations, are caring, involved, and strict and stern (that's right - children respect parents for being strict and stern). By becoming an important leader in of each of these young men's lives, they will leave a legacy that each will carry into future generations.

Since four of these students had traveled thousand of miles to America, it was compelling to get their points of view on the leadership role of America. Again there was tremendous commonality in their beliefs. They seem to admire America or the American people in varying degrees, particularly for the positive ways that America uses it's leadership role, such as humanitarian aide. They said that their countries look up to America and they see America as an influential world-leader.

With Nina in Michigan's neighbor to the east, there was the opportunity to contrast a youthful view of national leadership. Nina admits she knew little about Canada before moving in with her host family. Unlike the students in America, whose comments centered on a dominate country, Nina thought of Canada as a "very peaceful, calm country".

The contrast in views also demonstrates a leadership quality often overlooked - that of impression. America is extremely well represented in the news venues of other countries and as such people seem to have strong opinions - some with a good viewpoint, some mixed, and some critical - about the United States. We see the same in mid-sized and large companies. Departments within the larger organization are very visible and opinions by those in other departments is often formulated before actual contact is made with the group. This truth is exemplified by the student's views of their host country - formulated before and after they began their stay in North America. For example, Alex noted that his view of America centered on the portrayal of America on television's "The Simpsons". He now sees Americans at hard-working and patriotic.

Although the goal of the Rotary Exchange program is to introduce students to other cultures, students are also learning about leadership. The program offers these students a hands-on experiential learning environment. They are seeing leaders in all walks of life in the culture of their host nation, and rapidly learning to adjust to the culture in such a way that their year will be meaningful and prosperous in the form of knowledge and friendship.

As they eventually move from academia to the business or political world, they will use their valuable Rotary learning experience to help them adjust and thrive learning about corporate cultures (just as with countries, no two are alike).

Morris summed up his comments, touching on one of the main secrets that has robbed us historically of great leaders. He stated, "everyone that has self-confidence and can lead". The secret is to find that hidden self-confidence within us to extract the inbred leadership qualities every individual possesses.

Rick Weaver is President of Max Impact, a national leadership and organization development company based in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Rick is an accomplished business executive with experience in retail, market analysis, supply chain and project management, team building, and process improvement. He has worked with hundreds of companies to improve sales, processes, and bottom-line results. MaxImpact offers leadership and organizational development services along with employee assessments and background checks. Contact Rick at 248-802-6138 or via email, MaxImpact is on the web at

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