THE GROWING LEADER: YOUTH LEADERSHIP
“Young people want to be engaged as change-maker in their lives, their families and their communities. They are disproportionately involved in and affected by the problems that beset their communities, and they must be part of the solution” – Pittman, Martin & Williams, 2007, The Forum for Youth Investment
Youth leadership is the involvement of young adults exercising authority over themselves and others. Leadership skills are an essential component in the society that we are living today, be it economically, socially or politically. As such, youths in Malaysia should be encouraged and given equal opportunities to learn these skills because development of leadership does not only cater to the benefit of personal achievements, but to also better serve the community, organization and society most broadly.
Though I share the mutual understanding that leadership training is of utmost importance within our society and in an organization more specifically, and do not question the results and effectiveness of adult leadership development, I do have to say that I strongly believe youth development is still slightly underestimated and under-emphasized. I would also like to express that youth leadership development could gain great attention if we spend more time to harness the capabilities, eagerness and passion within young adults.
The theory of leadership in adults became well known to scholars and researcher in the early 1900s, which emphasis on the infamous “Great Man Theory”. This theory focuses on the traits and qualities a great leader should have rather than the process of leadership, thus causing many to believe that all great leaders were born, but not made. This concept has also been widely linked to famous leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi, Napoleon, and Abraham Lincoln, which emphasis on the “natural” ability to leader and gain followers. However, recent concepts of leadership has pivoted towards a more dynamic role whereby leadership is believed to be a relationship between and among individuals. This approach has evolved into a more collaborative, reciprocal approach which includes group voices and youth voices.
At this point, it may be worth accentuating some important points in youth leadership but to my surprise, scholarly works and researches on youth leadership are scares. Most literature reviews of leadership concepts and case studies are only focused on adult context. Therefore, this begs the question “Where are young adults within the context of leadership research? Where does leadership stand within the context of youth literature?” There are countless leadership studies, framework and theories pertaining to the context of adults but pays little to no attention in the development of leadership qualities and traits of adolescents.
However, researcher Whitehead explained that the “absence” of youth within the context of leadership may be due to the fact that leadership studies are usually done in workplace, organizational hierarchies and business industries that naturally excludes youth from the context. In addition, researcher Ibid also explained that literature done with regards to youth leadership do so with a “future orientation”.
Nevertheless, Malaysia has produced some of the finest youth leaders in the nation, representing us Malaysian in the International stage. The Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia Pacific Program held in December 2019 has attracted approximately 200 of Asia Pacific’s most promising young leaders. The program emphasis on value-bases, ethical leadership and Malaysia are represented by 16 young and talented individuals. Undoubtedly, Hastings et al concluded in his research analysis that youth leader tend to be a community’s most influential subgroup and future research pertaining to the development of youth leadership should be further explore. Nonetheless, priority should be given to emerging youth leaders to explore and examine the vibrant, resilient communities that encourage young adults to become future members and leaders of the nation.