It is a word that everyone knows but few really understand. But of all the misconceptions that come with it, I will focus on the last one for now: age.
The most common perception is that with age comes experience and thus the ability to lead. But what if leadership was not as linear as this? What if we are collectively disregarding the impact of having leaders start early?
Whether you are skeptical of this idea or simply are finding the motivation to become a leader yourself, here is why I believe this is a question we should all be asking and how we can answer it.
Young people can challenge the status quo
A lot of effort goes into keeping the status quo in our society, even when it is in need of dire change. We resist social change because it is uncomfortable and it brings us into the unknown, even though it makes the world a better place.
The younger generations, however, have always had the ability to challenge assumptions about how the world should be run, because they were perceptive enough to face the unknown and courageous enough to help others walk through it. It is this attitude that allows the youth to dictate the culture and direction of a society.
The status quo has been challenged throughout history by people who started young and had the courage, ambition, and passion for making a major social impact. Even if we ourselves do not manage to change history by ourselves, we can at least manage to start a much-needed discussion about certain matters. Take Martin Luther King Jr., who made massive steps in the Civil Rights Movement from a relatively young age. Take a more recent example: Malala Yousafzai, who courageously advocated female education in Pakistan as a teenager.
If it seems impossible for you to change anything on a global scale, remember that all the revolutionaries throughout history that did so had to swim against the flow of the river to carry the world to where it is now.
Young people must speak out and take action
With regards to the UK, the last few years have been quite eventful, considering that there were two general elections and an EU referendum. What these events all have in common is that the youth voters turn out in were significantly lower than the overall turnout.
Much of this voter apathy can be put to the fact that young people tend to feel excluded from politics, because they either feel like their actions count for nothing or that they are not responsible for what happens in the world. But many of us fail to realize that lack of action also has consequences, and the result of our lack of action here will affect us throughout our entire lives.
Unlike previous generations, we have the power of social media to facilitate the projection of young voices. All it takes is a post to start a conversation and all it takes is a ‘retweet’ or a ‘share’ to have your opinions heard by other people.
However, it is not enough to have your concern all over your Facebook. It should be imprinted in your actions; it should be in your mindset to take action where you feel there is not enough action being taken and empower others to do the same.
It takes one young leader to inspire many more leaders. It takes one Malala to inspire many others to become activists and fight for what they believe in. This domino effect is just how small actions can compound into larger outcomes.
We need young role models in our country
Despite making up a significant amount of the population, young people are (and always have been) heavily underrepresented in the UK. This is evident from the notable deficiency of formal youth leaders in this country, where a very small minority of MPs are in their twenties or younger. While this is certainly not the entire picture, it does imply a certain lack of youth in our country’s decision-making processes as things stand in Britain.
There are two points to be made about younger leaders: firstly, that they are necessary to a country’s growth; and secondly that they encourage more young leaders.
On the first point: young people have a very different way of seeing the world. Our lives are different to those growing up in the, say, the 70s. Older people may not know what it is like being a student with access to the Internet. They may not have the perspective of a university graduate in 2017, struggling to pay off their debt.
It is these very differences in experiences that make them so valuable. As mentioned at the start, many say that with age comes experience. Instead, I believe that there are no invalid experiences and that we should make an effort to learn from each other rather than dismissing other points of views.
On the second point: leadership is all about connection. Imagine, as a person of minority that you see a minority actor in a movie and think ‘I want to be an actor like him when I grow up!’. Or more relevantly, as a high school student, you see a teenager in parliament and you tell yourself ‘if she can do it, why can’t I?’
Relatability produces connections, and connections are what it take to inspire someone to great heights and allow others to learn from your experiences. It is about feeling represented, about feeling that you can leave large enough footprints in the sands of time.
They are the future
I want to come back to the point about drifting away from the status quo with a quote by Nelson Mandela: “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. We know that every generation is different from the previous ones. The older generations are currently in the driving seat of our community, while the youth are waiting for their turn on the wheel.
So regardless of how society views our group, it is a fact that we will be the ones to carry the world forward. We will have to. Therefore, I believe it to be crucial that we are given the chance to be accountable for the world before we completely inherit it from our ancestors.
Yes, we may not be ready for such a responsibility. We may make mistakes. But which leader ever started off as perfect? Having the opportunity to take the reins early will help us learn from our experiences and become better people tomorrow.
And the best part? While leadership can be a lonely process, there are at least 70,000 others like you all around the world that believe in the importance of youth leadership. It is this community that drives AIESEC to continually develop resilient young leaders with values and a passion for empowering other people, and hence the entire world.