Search institute provides guide to youth leadership

Michigan State University Extension provides guidance and support in the delivery of youth leadership programs.

“Adults underestimate youth and their ability to make positive contributions to society, but I think kids are the ones who are going to change the world,” explains Craig Kielburger, 15 year-old founder of Free the Children, a worldwide anti–child labor group. The question becomes how do youth gain the skills to change the world? We know that today’s youth need to develop leadership skills as they grow into adults in order to enjoy greater success in their lives at a basic level, let alone on a larger scale like that of Kielburger. Most individuals who are considered leading experts in the field of leadership focus predominately on adult leadership and speak very minimally, if at all, about youth leadership.

For nearly a century, leadership scholars have attempted to define the concepts of leadership and leader, and to understand the essential attributes, functions and circumstances that characterize effective leaders (Bass, 1981). The Search Institute defined an effective leader as one who does what is needed and appropriate in the situation or setting, listens and responds to the needs of others, behaves ethically and with integrity, and understands the need for shared leadership.

Data from a Search Institute survey involving approximately 100,000 sixth to 12th-grade students during the 1996–97 school year indicated a strong correlation between leadership, community service and youth participation and the number of developmental assets a young person has in her or his life—the building blocks Search Institute has identified as the positive relationships, opportunities, competencies, values and self-perceptions necessary for success.

A useful workbook and guide, An Asset Builder’s Guide to Youth Leadership, to helping young people become effective leaders in their schools, congregations, and community organizations is available online through the Search Institute and is titled. Eighteen key areas are identified in the guide with keys one to five focusing on expanding the way you think about youth leadership. Keys six to 11 are about building the foundation for and overcoming obstacles to shared power in your organization. Finally, keys 12-18 help individuals put ideas into action and truly engage youth in leadership within organizations and perhaps in the wider community.

MSU Extension’s Community Engagement and Leadership Development team offers Leadership Programs for both new and experienced youth and adult leaders who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills.

Bass, B. (1981). Stogdill’s handbook of leadership. New York: Free Press.

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