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The Top 2 Qualities of a Leader... According to a 16-Year Old
by Kurt Johnston
My 16-year-old son, Cole, recently attended a conference dedicated to helping teenagers develop leadership skills. Cole, like many guys his age, isn’t a big fan of debriefing his life learnings with Mom and Dad. So we were caught off guard with how eager he was to talk to us about the various things he'd experienced over his weekend away—which he did for the next 15 minutes (which may have been a personal record).
Toward the end of the conversation I asked, “Cole, if you were forced to identify the top TWO qualities of a leader, what would you suggest? There’s no wrong answer, because different people would come up with all sorts of qualities to put at the top of their own list.” He asked to think about it for a minute, and then came up with these qualities as his chart-toppers. I’m not sure I could pick two better ones myself.
#2: Being Trustworthy. Cole felt like trust is the most important thing people can give a leader. He figured that if people can’t trust you, then why would they let you lead them? I was so impressed that I decided to push my luck and ask him to share a few things that build trust and a few things that lose trust. I shouldn’t have pushed my luck…he had no desire to go there.
#1: Being A Good Listener. In Cole’s mind, the ability to listen well, and to make people feel like you really care about what they think and how they feel is the very best thing a leader can do. He added that it is always really cool how certain people, whom you know are busy, always manage to make it seem like they have time for you when they see you. Since I had just struck out with my previous attempt to get him to expound, I didn’t even ask.
So let’s assume that being trustworthy and having fantastic listening skills are the most important qualities in leaders of all stripes. The questions become easy…and really important for youth workers.
- Do my students, parents, and volunteers trust me?
- How can I continue to win their trust? Are there mistakes I’ve made in the past that have hurt trust that I need to be sure not to repeat?
- How good are my listening skills?
- Do people I lead feel like their opinions, insights, and concerns matter?
It’s rather shocking what one can learn from a sixteen year old skater, isn’t it?
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