America is facing a leadership crisis. Many young people today aren’t being given the opportunity to learn the tenacity, strategic-thinking and people skills that they’ll need to lead – now and in the future.
For me, leadership started at home as a big sister. As the oldest of four kids, I took on a lot of responsibility early on in my life. My dad worked two jobs and my mom was my first mentor, and she saw the unique potential in me and each of my siblings and helped us cultivate it. Caring adults like my mom and others stepped up and gave me the opportunities I needed to grow essential life skills.
But recent research conducted by 4‑H suggests that today’s youth aren’t getting the leadership opportunities they want and need. In the 2016 4‑H National Youth Survey on Leadership, two-thirds of respondents said they don’t have the tangible skills they needed to lead. Half of high school students said they don’t feel prepared to lead in college or a future career.
That’s a discouraging statistic. But even more discouraging is that, as adults, we’re not stepping up to help young people get the leadership opportunities they need. When our survey asked youth why they hadn’t taken opportunities to learn leadership skills, the number one reason they gave was that no one had asked them.
4‑H decided to change that. In spring of 2016, we launched our Grow True Leaders Campaign to highlight the experiences offered to young people that grow leadership skills. Through self-chosen projects, kids are paired with mentors and given opportunities to lead. These projects bring out their potential, their passions, and their drive to help others, as we empower them to become true leaders.
In 4‑H, we believe that every child has the potential to be a leader, and in order to fulfill that potential they need caring adult mentors, chances to develop practical skills, and opportunities to take on leadership roles. As America’s largest youth development organization, we know this approach works and our results are second to none.
If we’re going to fill the coming leadership void, adults must play a larger role in encouraging kids and offering them the hands-on experiences that will help them build confidence and grow skills.
4‑H’s Grow True Leaders Campaign continues to highlight those experiences. We asked young people to tell us which problems facing the world need stronger leaders, or which problems they themselves would like to lead the way in solving. Then they have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to these problems.
We also asked adults to champion the positive work that today’s youth are doing by recognizing young leaders in their own communities through a digital Shout Out and by helping us provide more opportunities for youth to gain the skills they need to lead.
We’re supporting our youth, and we’re asking adults across the country to do the same. Let’s rally the nation to grow a generation of True Leaders.
About the Author
President & CEO - National 4‑H Council
Jennifer is a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world. As President and CEO, she leads National 4‑H Council in its mission to increase investment and participation in high-quality 4‑H positive youth development programs for millions of young people around the world.