Leaders of Never

“Youths are the leaders of tomorrow.”

“Youths are the future leaders.”

Presumably, every person older than a toddler has heard these quotes or any of their numerous cousins. It is ingrained in the human consciousness that every generation will at some point be replaced by a younger one. However, for many youths, tomorrow remains elusive, perpetually unreachable because they never realize that tomorrow starts now.

Recently, in a youth organization where I belong, it was time to conduct an election for a new set of executives. Accordingly, notices were issued for a general meeting, with the insertion that an election would hold during the meeting. As I have observed in several similar situations, some members stayed away from the meeting.

When we reached the time for the election, a litany of rejections, dissensions and excuses began flowing. Some persons had come prepared, ready to obliterate any attempt to nominate them for any role. Excuses ranged from “I’m not interested”, to “I don’t think I’m capable”, to “I don’t want stress”. At a point, it seemed like a bye-election would have to be organized later. However, after all the dodging and hiding, all the executive roles were filled.

If youths are tomorrow’s leaders, and it is often said, “leaders are made, not born”, why then do today’s youths see leadership as a bogeyman? By leadership, I’m referring to leadership as a service, not the greedy self-enrichment mutation loved by a good number of persons. If this organization were one that offered the potential to embezzle huge funds, there would have been acrimonious jostling for positions. However, because there is little money to corner, the leadership roles lose any sense of glamour.

Let’s look at some of the tendered reasons. “I’m not interested”. Those in this group go to any length to show a gulf between them and leadership. They believe that trying to close the gulf is like trying to build an asphalt road from the earth to the sun. Some in this group are coated with a veneer of rudeness. Declining politely is not a valid move in their playbook, so their lips readily spill words without any prior filtering.

Unfortunately, several vehement critics fall into this category. They are professionals at criticizing people in charge, but refrain from presenting themselves in that “vulnerable” position at the top. They are experts at finding faults, and ignoramuses at fixing them. To me, people who are unwilling to lead do not have any moral right to criticize those who lead. Another unfortunate thing about this group is that some of them actually aspire for bigger positions in life. How can a person aspire to someday be the CEO of a large organisation, yet, be unwilling to start by leading a small team? The Bible talks about “not neglecting the days of humble beginnings”. These ones are uninterested in small beginnings, and they either never reach the top, or should an accident plant them there, their lack of leadership experience wrecks whatever organisation is entrusted to them.

The second category says, “I don’t think I’m capable”. Some persons in this group have low self-esteem—they have no belief in themselves. Hence, they avoid any role that would create expectations from them. For some others, they have previously failed in a place of responsibility. Hence, hiding behind the veil of failure, they shy away from leadership. What this group fails to realize is that capability is not built in a day. Capability is built from hard work, diligence, experiences, failures and successes. It is a gradual process.

Hiding behind incapability is akin to a chicken-and-egg scenario. The perceived lack of capability deters them from leadership ventures, and the lack of leadership experience perpetuates the lack of capability. The only way to break this vicious cycle is to launch forth and learn on the job. Falling down is part of a toddler’s regimen to learn how to walk. Even the world’s fastest sprinters were once as slow as snails, crawling on the floor. To lead big, one needs to start small and learn. Making mistakes in a small setting can help prevent such mistakes from happening on the big stage.

“I don’t want stress.” In fairness, this group may seem to have a point. Leadership is not easy, especially when the organisation is not made up of robots, but human beings with varied pasts, manners and proclivities. The art of leadership—whether as a head or as a follower—involves a blend of several resources— mental, emotional, physical, and financial. Nonetheless, who said “stress” could not be “fun”? The best sportsmen spend hours in training, straining their limbs, and then sweat it out for spectators’ delight. The thrill of success makes every sweat, every strained muscle worth it.

The same can be said about leadership. The “stress” cannot be compared to the rewards of leadership. Every discomfort, every undue criticism, every unexplained string of bad luck, every failure, every rejection, builds leadership muscle—muscle that would be required in the present future. People in this group need to learn that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. What matters is what you do with it.

If youths are to lead tomorrow, then we must learn how to lead and how to follow. Although leadership transcends just having a position, we must learn that being on the podium provides a richer clime for learning. We cannot run from leadership and expect to be good leaders in the future. If we choose to wait for tomorrow, we would never see tomorrow, because the tomorrow we seek has already started. It is now!

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