Towards A New Generation of Leaders
As we go through life, we state and re-state our beliefs; we question the notions that once seemed clear-cut and obvious; we reconsider and redefine our concepts. This reconsideration and revision of ideas is the guarantee of our development towards better understanding of society and our role in it. It’s no secret that social phenomena are sometimes the most elusive and difficult to define. So is the concept of leadership. Who is a leader? What qualities does a leader have? Are we born or made leaders? What is the relationship between a leader and other people? Is it a benefit or a burden to be a leader? All these and other questions went through my mind as I sat down to write this post.
In the post below I would like to share with you my ideas on and understanding of what a leader is and what leadership means. It might happen that some time later I will look through these views of mine, find them insufficient and alter them in accordance with my new worldview. But for now, this post is a sort of a snapshot of the beliefs I have now. You are most kindly invited to reflect on the above questions and see if you agree or disagree with my observations.
When you hear the word leader, what image comes to your mind? Do you picture in your mind’s eye a political or religious leader? Or do you see a boss or a successful businessman? Perhaps, you recall a person you know and who you have always looked up to? Or maybe an image of a ringleader or a cheerleader pops up in your mind just out of the blue? From a quick glance at this incomplete list of possible kinds of leaders, it becomes clear that various aspects of life or life situations require various sets of qualities from a leader. But is there a quality that all leaders have in common? I believe there is. More so, this quality is the very core of leadership, and this is the fact that a leader is someone who is at the forefront and ready to go further. Sometimes it seems that a leader has an inexhaustible inner source of energy, a burning idea or a wish – something that drives them forward and makes them take action. Very often, this inner impetus, the invincible urge, stays inexplicable to leaders themselves – so natural it is for them to be willing to act.
For me, the willingness to take action is the key characteristic of a leader. This quality sets leaders apart from the rest. However, leaders should not necessarily be prominent public figures but common people like you and me. They are the leaders we can come across in our everyday life or the leaders we can become ourselves.
So, are we born or made leaders? I think that on the one hand, we are born with some innate character traits, some of which can or some of which cannot make us potential leaders. However, on the other hand, we all have the ability to voluntary shape and mould our character, developing the skills and qualities we would like to possess. I hold the view that nothing is impossible. So, technically speaking, we can make ourselves leaders.
But do we need to? Why would one want to be a leader? And what would our society be like if everyone was a leader? I have no doubts that this would be a much healthier society. And here is why.
Taking action is a serious deed. It often concerns other people, involves some risks, provokes criticism and leads to certain consequences. That’s why real leaders are those who have good people skills, are mindful of others and, very importantly, are not afraid of people. They are alert and aware of the surrounding environment and situation. Leaders are not afraid to express their views and to stand up and be counted. Leaders are ready to face criticism and disapproval. They are not afraid to step beyond their comfort zone and push themselves to limits. Leaders are creative, resourceful and full of initiative because they often have to deal with complex situations and find solutions. So, stepping into the role of a leader, taking action and being in charge of other people, foreseeing possible consequences, creating opportunities and leading people to a certain goal teaches people to become responsible, confident, courageous and respectful of others. However, don’t let me put you into an illusion that leaders are stubborn authoritative people who want to have things done their and only their way. Real leaders are flexible and prepared to reach compromises. To paraphrase from Russian Tsar Nicolas I, leaders are those who have first learnt how to follow and obey others. All these aspects considered, I’m positive that nurturing and developing leadership qualities would result in a more harmonious society.
Here rises a question whether our schools and universities, our educational system in general, helps students to develop leadership skills and teachers them to learn to socialize and negotiate? From my 9-year work experience as a university teacher, I can say: there are very few opportunities for that if at all. The Russian educational system, for example, is mainly targeted at transferring knowledge from teachers to students but provides little opportunities for social skills development.
The educational process in Russia is chiefly teacher-dominated and centered. Teaching is commonly done in the form of big university lectures with seminars strongly resembling mini-lectures as well. Students are rarely challenged to do their own independent and creative research, neither are they taught how to work collaboratively with their peers and reach joint goals. A lot of Russian students feel embarrassed and awkward when they are asked to step to the front and deal with the audience, big or small. In Russian schools and universities, students are not encouraged to show initiative, think critically and form their own informed opinions. In many ways, Russian educational system teachers students facts but doesn’t prepare learners for real life.
However, I wouldn’t like to create an image of total gloom and doom. I always try to look at the bright side, and I’m sure the situation isn’t all that hopeless and cheerless. First of all, we should be realistic and understand that any educational system is huge and has its inertia: it can’t be changed overnight. But this no way means that we, teachers, can’t do anything to improve the existing situation. We can. Gradually but steadily, we can teach our students social and leadership skills by giving them more autonomy in their learning, by involving them in various individual and joint projects, by welcoming initiative and creativity and by creating friendly and welcoming atmosphere in class to help learners build confidence. We really can do this. All we need to be leaders ourselves. This way we will raise a new generation of leaders.
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