Character is described as an important component of personality, or what makes people who they are. Character is that aspect of personality that influences how people behave in their relationship with others. This leads to some people being described as having good character or bad character. Good character is also said to be an essential aspect of leadership.
What is Youth Leadership?
Leadership is thought of as the ability to lead others. However, there is often confusion over exactly what leadership encompasses. Some think of leadership as a role that is endowed in an individual to provide guidance to others. This is a role to which someone could be elected. In this case, the role of leadership is a formal one, where the youth leader is in charge of certain aspects of the organization.
But leadership does not have to be formal role. It could be informal where an individual is considered a leader because of how others perceive him or her. This could very easily be big brothers and sisters in a family, who are perceived by their younger siblings as people they admire. It could also be the result of friends who see their peers as good examples of how to live and behave.
In other words, while leaders could be formally identified as leaders, most young people are informally tagged as leaders by others, and in many cases, those who are tagged are unaware of their influence as leaders. Some young people are conscious of this, and it is for this reason that many of them live their lives as good examples for those who emulate them.
Didn’t Ask for Leadership Role
The position some young people may take is that they did not ask for this leadership role and that they should not be thought of as responsible for other people’s actions. Unfortunately, this leadership role is often something over which they have little control. The little brother who looks up to his big brother often does not stop to think whether his big brother is a worthy leader or not.
Similarly, an admiring friend may not stop to think that her friend really does not possess the characteristics that make her a good leader. It is therefore even more important now than ever that young people be able to identify a good youth leader, formal or informal.
Who is a Good Leader?
Looking at leadership, Cooper, Sarros and Santora (May/June 2007) point out that society often expects good leaders to be ‘strong in character’, to be authentic, but that this definition is often problematic. Therefore, these authors carried out a study in which they identified dimensions of leadership character: universalism, transformation and benevolence.
Universalism deals with respectfulness, fairness, cooperation, compassion, spiritual respect and humility. Transformation deals with courage, passion, wisdom, competence and self-discipline. Benevolence deals with loyalty, selflessness, integrity, and honesty (Cooper et al., May/June 2007).
Who is a Good Youth Leader?
A good youth leader is a young person who possesses good character. According to Park and Peterson (April 2009), “Good character is what we look for in leaders, what we look for in teachers and students, what we look for in colleagues at work, what parents look for in their children, and what friends look for in each other. Good character is not the absence of deficits and problems but rather a well-developed family of positive traits.”
Park and Peterson carried out research, The Values in Action (VIA) Project, which discussed the strengths of character which they considered important for “optimal development across the lifespan.” These were character strengths they believed youth leaders should possess and which would take them through life. These character strengths that were identified were wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence (Park & Peterson, April 2009). These authors have undertaken exhaustive and exceptional work in elucidating the components of these strengths of character.
The character strengths that have been identified by Cooper et al. (May/June 2007) and by Park & Peterson (April 2009) have much overlap, showing that youth leadership, like leadership among adults, have certain universal elements that must be given serious consideration. Various youth programs exist and although they may use different strategies and terminologies to teach youth leadership, what stands out is the fact that they all involve education and development of character based on many of the character strengths that were identified above.
Cooper, B. K., Sarros, J. C. & Santora, J. (May/June 2007). The character of leadership. Ivey Business Journal.
Park, N. & Peterson, C. (April 2009). Character Strengths: Research and Practice. Journal of College and Character, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1042
Israelin Shockness at www.successfulyouthliving.com and at www.successfulyouthlivingblog