Leaders Unexpected


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“Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” ~Elie Wiesel

There is much discussion about leadership, the characteristics of a leader and entire blogs, books and businesses dedicated to the topic. The tendency is to focus on people in positions of leadership, with titles that ooze authority: CEO, CFO, COO, Executive Vice President, District Regional Manager of the World, etc. The debate lingers on whether the titles parallel the behaviors of a leader, with many sidebar debates thrown in for good measure.

As Kelly and I reflected upon milestones of the past year, we kept returning to one particular client. We were asked to facilitate a 4 hour leadership seminar to a high school student council consisting of 48 students. I had a conference call with two of the advisers: Principal of St. Francis DeSales High School, Dan Garrick, and Community Relations Director, Karen Cofojohn. The conversation started like most initial client contact calls: a needs analysis, logistics, primary expectations for the session, etc. And that’s where the similarities ended.

Dan and Karen lured me in with their calm demeanor. Suddenly…shazam! Their ideas and aspirations for these students were unending. They wanted them to have an experience that would alter how they viewed their role in student council, taking it from a faculty/adviser driven group to the lofty status of student government. That is a huge leap…in 4 semesters, let alone, 4 hours! Student governments are just that: governed by the students. That requires a level of leadership, commitment, effort, and awareness not often attributed to an average group of high school students. Many schools claim to have a student government, but typically they are just glorified student councils. It’s not a question of semantics, it’s a matter of culture, behavior and leadership. By the end of the call, Dan and Karen had me raring to go…until I called Kelly. Reality check: we have 4 hours.

Well, we are The Experience Factor. Let’s create an experience. And let’s get some more coffee and Diet Coke…STAT!

As Kelly and I prepared the room at the site of the event, a yellow school bus loomed in the distance. Students came filing in, loud, excited, eager. The first thing we noticed: students asking, “How can we help you?” Seriously? We facilitate events with adults all over the nation and that is rarely the first question we hear. It’s usually, “Are we getting lunch?” These students didn’t even flinch at our assigned seating! For most of them, having just been elected, this was their first time meeting each other and we were already challenging their comfort zone. Not a single complaint.

These students created an amazing experience…for us. They opened our eyes to the possibilities of the future of leadership. They demonstrated and verbalized insights we had not imagined. They were able to identify people in their own lives, and throughout history that represented the qualities of leadership to which they aspire. They mentioned parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, historical figures, neighbors, relatives…the type of leader they want to emulate.

They participated in discussions, activities and challenges with enthusiasm, willingness and courage. These students represented the ideal characteristics of leadership. The most exciting thing about the session was literally their excitement! Imagine a company filled with employees dedicated to making every moment of the day an event, an experience, a representation of their best self. That’s what these students accomplished. We gave them tasks to complete: they did so with creativity, collaboration and energy. We gave them questions to answer: they did so with openness, transparency and wisdom. We gave them challenges to test their comfort zone: they did so with trust, courage and integrity.

Many of these students will one day hold a title that signifies a position of leadership and authority. Our hope is that they remain true to their current selves, do not become jaded by corporate policy or seduced by power. Leadership starts early. Excellent leadership starts at schools like St. Francis DeSales where they are committed to the growth and development of students who will live with integrity and act with compassion.

Our thanks goes to each of the students that participated in that 4 hour session. They renewed our faith in the possibilities of expanding the dialog of leadership to a younger generation. And most noteworthy, they gave us hope.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jen Kuhn
Jennifer Kuhn is a talented, energetic and enthusiastic consultant, trainer and speaker. She has provided thousands of employees, coaches and executives with guidance while they work to enhance their professional skill development. Jen's approach has been hailed by participants who were initially skeptical or resistant. Her unique and non-threatening style wins over the most jaded employee that allows them to learn and grow within their organization.


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