Building leadership skills in youth

Six tips on how to add planning and organizing skills to your 4-H projects.

Building leadership skills in youth

Michigan 4-H is known for projects that appeal to youth from rabbits to robotics, but also for preparing youth with skills that will serve them in their life, such as leadership skills. There are many facets to leadership, such as problem-solving, public speaking, decision-making, setting goals and responsible leadership.

Another aspect of leadership is planning and organizing, and there are many ways to add these skills to projects. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following ideas:

  1. For younger youth, start with setting personal goals for their 4-H year, then have them plan out which activities and experiences will help them accomplish their goals. Putting together a “to-do” list may help organize their ideas.
  2. A parallel activity for older youth could involve having them think about what they would like to list on their resume in a year, such as skills, experiences, awards, etc., then having them plan out which activities and experiences will help them get there. Prioritizing their list, as well as identifying the logical order of tasks, will help with putting their plan into action.
  3. Encourage members to run for club officer positions. Often, teen officers are the ones who plan guest speakers, field trips and educational activities for their club. They can start with identifying the goals of the activity, list supplies needed, estimate time needed to accomplish each task and delegate members to complete different parts.
  4. Designate a planning committee for a club event, such as a holiday party or an educational workshop. Offer guidance if youth ask for it, but otherwise empower youth to make decisions on finances, schedules and deadlines. Allow them to come up with ideas, distribute tasks and organize all the pieces that go together to make a whole event. They will end up with more ownership of the experience overall, as well as making the event relevant to their needs and wants.
  5. Allow for failure to happen. If a youth forgets to plan for hot dog buns to go with the hot dogs at their club barbeque, no one will starve, and they will certainly remember that experience more vividly (and learn from it) than if the adult leader buys the hot dog buns anyway. 4-H clubs are a great place to practice these skills in a safe environment. Adults can help frame these experiences as positive ones with critical reflections; facilitating the debriefing of such events can help youth understand what they learned.
  6. Encourage youth to think about which county boards or committees they would like to be a part of, or which statewide 4-H events they would like to help plan in the future. Oftentimes, planning members are solicited from youth who participate in events. These are great places for youth to have their voice be heard, as well as practice their planning and organizing skills on a larger scale.

It is often easy for adult leaders to take on the planning and organizing of club activities as part of their volunteer responsibilities. However, there are many benefits to sharing these tasks with youth, including increased buy-in, greater relevance and the building of critical life skills for youth participants.

Michigan 4-H has many resources for including leadership in youth development activities, including online materials, articles, trainings for teen leaders and officers and statewide experiences to strengthen leadership skills.

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