Leaders are Torchbearers!
In many ways, growing up in North Dakota wasn’t all that different from other parts of the country, especially the plains of the upper midwest. I was a slightly above-average youth with big dreams of leadership, family, and peace on earth. The greatest gift of my childhood was the love and support of a family that allowed me to practice these aspirations early on.
I see now how lucky I was to be born into a loving home with lots of siblings. But, of course, during those early years, I was never as grateful as I should have been. What I didn’t see was that all of those fights over who got to sit in the comfortable spots in the car on long road trips taught me negotiation. Those dinner table debates over right and wrong taught me to be thoughtful in my beliefs. And, those speech team losses, and struggles with friendships, taught me a growth mindset.
This past weekend, I was honored to deliver the keynote address to the newest group of Torchbearers. These high school students have participated in Farmers Union Youth Programs and have shown exemplary leadership in making their communities a better place.
The process of writing and delivering this important speech was a walk down memory lane. I was a camper, camp counselor in my middle school, high school and college years and went on to be the Director of Education. These experiences live at the heart of almost every character-building story that I have.
Camp was a safe place to try on new hats as a young person. I was allowed and encouraged to try and try again at friendship, skill-based challenges, leadership, and creativity. I believe that the programs and people of Farmers Union played to my natural strengths, but I also think that they enabled me to grow and find my place in the world.
I will be honest here – I poured so many hours into preparing this speech. Perhaps I overestimated the power of a speech in shaping these young lives. But, I believe they deserved my best. And, if my words gave them even a slight boost in their ability to lead and grow, it was worth it!
The Tenets of a Good Leader
Leadership comes from within. Yes, it materializes as actions and words. But, a person’s ability to lead well with the right actions and words is born from the courage, intention, compassion, and connection within oneself.
Courage starts with showing up and letting oneself be seen. This is a regular practice in vulnerability and requires a knowing of oneself that is solid enough not to be shaken by the judgment and critique of others. Courage is trying and failing and trying again. Courage is hard.
Intention is about being more than just our actions. Leaders act. There is no doubt about it. But, the best leaders act with purpose. They are thoughtful, plan, and serve with others in mind.
Compassion is required in good leaders — in service to others and in service to oneself. To be compassionate toward others is simply caring. To be compassionate to oneself is about always knowing there is more to learn. With each opportunity to lead, a compassionate person will ask of themself, “What don’t I know yet?” and “What could I learn if I took a second look?”
Connection is the greatest gift you will ever give those whom you lead. When you lead with love, you are more concerned about connection than being right. The best leaders put people above profit.
Living These Tenets Requires Practice
Doing these things well isn’t always easy. That’s why experiences like Farmers Union Youth Programs are so important. Society teaches us to protect ourselves and never look wrong or weak. These principles guide us to be true, even when we are wrong and may look like a fool.
Young leaders need space and grace to try out these principles in the early days of leadership, whether around the kitchen table with siblings or leading a high school sports team. It is just plain wrong that we live in a world where we expect kids to get it right all the time. It is infuriating to see a young person try, fail, be chastised, and never try again. It is a loss for the world when we quash a young person’s natural leadership abilities. Let’s all agree to stop it.
Instead, let’s first model the principles of good leadership for them. Then, let’s mentor, guide, and love them through their trying.
Play Your Part in Raising Leaders
As we come to the end of 2021, I encourage you to raise up young leaders intentionally.
- Look at those in your midst. How can you better support them in learning and practicing leadership?
- Give. Programs like Farmers Union Youth Programs and many others require donations from people like you – both monetary and volunteer service.
I am proud to be a part of the Farmers Union Youth Programs. I am so proud of these Torchbearers. I can’t wait to see what impact they have on the world!