Never too early to invest in young leaders

We are often encouraged to think of Leadership as the privilege of people who are “born” with charismatic personalities and/or hold high-level positions – however, LEADERSHIP is a set of behaviours that can be developed, and thus everybody should be able to consider themselves as potential leaders!

Leadership programs for university students can vary in duration, intensity, frequency and structure. However, one key element in leadership development for young students lies within the classic model of Transformational Leadership (TL), as it matches the developmental process they are going through – transforming from adolescents into young adults in an attempt to achieve the maximun possible level of control over their lives. In particular, inspirational motivation, mental stimulation and individualized interest are three components that seem to fit perfectly when working with young leaders. Inspirational motivation (Antonakis, Avolio, & Sivasubramaniam, 2003) refers to the ways in which transformational leaders activate their colleagues, looking to the future with optimism, setting ambitious goals, always projecting honest visions and achievable goals. Mental Stimulation is that aspect of TL that aims precisely to push individuals to think creatively and find solutions to difficult problems, causing them to transcend the usual common sense and analysis (Bass, 1999). And our personal favourite, individualized interest: the behavior of the transformational leader may be aimed at the well-being of the organization and the team, but at the same time supports and advises each team member individually (Antonakis, Avolio, & Sivasubramaniam, 2003). This individualized attention to the needs of each member, brings greater satisfaction, thus mobilizing each person to try harder.

We present these three elements as the core to the development of our young leaders. Those three particular elements are the ones that the young leaders themselves communicate as being important to them, so that they can maintain their growth mindset. They need to be surrounded by people who will motivate them via inspiration, in challenging situations that lead to mental stimulation, in an environment where they can feel that each one of them, is looked upon with individualized interest, equally valued as an important member of the team.

And all those things need to happen now: adolescents and undergraduate university students are leaders here and now. Not in 10 years when they will be applying for jobs that might one day lead them to higher level executive positions. We have seen hundreds of examples over the last years: young people making a difference in sustainability and environmental issues, humanitarian crises, literature, philosophy, science, robotics and AI, with or without the power and the space provided by the social media. And those stories should keep reminding us that it is never too early to invest in those who are still young today: Young students are leaders and by supporting their development and progress we are all contributing to shaping a better future.

The team of «Diploma in Leadership Skills: Children of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow», University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Academic Supervisor: Prof. Anthony Montgomery


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