Leadership can be taught at any age, from preschool to adulthood. As an education specialist and author in the field of education, I see firsthand how important it is to teach leadership skills to our youth – including those children with disabilities. Regardless of where you live in the world, children need to be explicitly taught how to establish a clear vision and then share that vision with others – as it relates to social responsibility, global awareness, and global citizenship.
Specific to teaching our youth around the world to be empowered, studies show that teachers are one of the most powerful influencers for children, all the way through their high school years. This is why teaching leadership in K-12 education – as part of the school day or offered in after-school programs – is so essential.
There is a wide spectrum of leadership skills, from self-advocacy to personal responsibility, that need to be explicitly taught. At the foundation of these skills are social and emotional learning.
Leave No Girl Behind International (LNGB) is a nonprofit empowerment organization for girls, based in South Africa, which is changing the lives of young girls around the globe with their social and emotional leadership curriculum. Co-founders, Haseena Patel and Shameema Patel, get to the heart of what young girls need: identifying their own unique voice, developing strength of character, and knowing how to advocate for themselves and others. The LNGB comprehensive programs result in giving young girls a practical and powerful skill set in leadership.
The organization’s programs and teachings are based on six principles: Love, Strength, Courage, Unity, Freedom, and Equality. LNGB methodically teaches each of these principles in skill-building lessons in a “connect-the-dots” manner. These lessons are an integral part of their Power Circle Team Building groups and their Youth Cultural Diversity programs.
At the core of teaching leadership and social and emotional learning to children is the principle of strength. In my mind, strength is not a physical attribute; it is an emotional quality necessary to have power in your life to make a difference in this world. Strength not only helps you deal with situations or events that can be controversial, distressing, or difficult, but it is also critical to unlock your leadership potential.
“Strength of character” is described by LNGB as “what determines who you become and allows you to walk unbowed and be in alignment with your personal sense of what is right.” I could not agree more. From my own perspective, strength in character consists of having the qualities that allow you to master yourself, achieve emotional regulation, and increase your persuasive power. These are essential leadership qualities to teach our youth, and most significantly, model for them.
When we explicitly teach strength of character to young girls (and boys), we basically are teaching them to “indict the status quo.” We must model to our youth how to do this and stand together around the globe to advocate for global citizenship. Strength of character inspires us to have the courage to challenge the existing state of affairs when the current model is not working.
We need to train children how to have strength to stand up for what is right and just in the name of social responsibility. As mentors, we need to show them how to be vocal and, respectively and productively, call into question things that are broken, flawed to begin with, or simply flat out wrong. Strength of character allows us to stand up for our core beliefs and know how to disagree to facilitate change. It also prepares us to embrace failure as a form of growth.
In addition, this critical leadership quality expands our ability to listen without judging and to accept diversity. It is essential to teach our youth how to display tolerance, love, and respect for others. Leadership training in the area of strength of character heightens our awareness of behaving consciously to affect positive change in our world.
A very meaningful LNGB summer event occurs each August called Bubbles Beyond Borders. It is a worldwide campaign to create gender equality and to support the rights and dreams of all genders globally. People get together to blow bubbles and pledge an action to support gender equality and human rights for all genders in their communities in some way. I invite you to pick a day in August to get together with children and adults and join us in blowing bubbles to represent limitless possibilities to change our world and empower children in leadership..
Leadership training needs to start at a very young age. My Mom and Dad empowered me as a young girl to, not only facilitate positive change in this world, but also, BELIEVE that I had the power and inner strength to do it. When we teach children about the critical leadership quality of strength of character, we are teaching them that every contribution counts – no matter how big or small.
The greatest thing we all can learn is that it is ALL about the contribution.
Simply put, our moral compass should always point us in the direction of making a difference.
Have a wonderful summer,
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Haseena PatelHaseena Patel, Co-Founder of Leave No Girl Behind International, Newcastle, Province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa