Why it’s hard for the next generation to lead

January 23, 2012 — 7 Comments

Over the next few days, I plan to blog on a variety of theories I’ve developed that explain why it’s so difficult for the next generation to step up into leadership roles today. I plan to offer a diagnosis and a prescription for each notion. Recently, I observed a paradox in young people that triggered my first theory.

Next Generation Leader Conversation

Mundane Chats vs. Meaningful Conversations

Young people today love to feel they’re engaged in changing the world. For instance, they embrace social justice and human rights. However—there’s a paradox taking place. For many the “change the world” thing is hypothetical. More and more, I talk to parents who tell me their teen doesn’t even talk to his or her friends about what college they plan to attend. Those moms and dads remind me that

years ago, we all talked about our college and career plans, about the cold war and nuclear fallout. I often talk to faculty who say their students laugh and cut up over “fail” videos on YouTube, but don’t connect on life-changing matters they’re experiencing at home. The superficial is king. Random humor reigns. Conversations today revolve around:

  • Sound bites.
  • Social media gossip.
  • Tweets and texts.
  • Facebook updates.

One student recently lost his mother to a drunk driving accident. When a counselor asked him who he talked to in order to cope with his loss, he candidly said, “I don’t talk about it. My friends and I talk about everything else to cope with our s**t!” This is more prevalent than we’d like to acknowledge. Adolescents love to talk—but they often don’t have language to talk about stuff that matters. They are social, but more and more I see it’s not about the issues that are meaningful.

Go Deep…

Truth be told, with some rare exceptions, the next generation doesn’t know how to talk about stuff that matters. There is too much trivia to distract them and adults have not found a way to equip them to have those conversations. So what can we do to enable them to go deep and wrestle with subjects that matter?

1. Create safe environments to converse.

Whether at home, school or a youth group, create communities that will be safe places to talk and experience self-disclosure. Kids won’t open up if they feel the group won’t be safe to do so. They must believe things will be kept confidential, that others are ready to go deep, not laugh and display trust.

2. Initiate by opening up and becoming vulnerable first.

Students will only become as transparent as their leader. So, you must go first. Model the way by talking about your own struggles, doubts, failures and fears. One person must always set the pace, and usually others will follow as they feel safe and at home. Don’t merely talk about being vulnerable—do it.

3. Expose them to real-life dilemmas that affect them.

Once you’ve created a great place for dialogue, introduce dilemmas around them in the community (or the world) that will impact them. Perhaps it’s a current event people avoid because it’s controversial. Because kids have been taught tolerance and pluralism, you must broach the subject and set boundaries for constructive discussion. Bring up issues that are important to human rights or social justice—and you’ll spark conversation. Then, apply it to their personal lives.

4. Engage their imaginations with right brain-stimulation.

To get them talking, utilize images or music or stories that engage their imagination; elements that trigger their right-brain. This kind of stimulation is helpful because pictures are worth a thousand words and there is no one, easy answer. This is why we developed Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. They are a way to launch conversations about topics that matter.

I think deep down, people young and old want to wrestle with stuff that matters in life. However, we have dumbed down interactions—and now must recover this lost art of going deep. Here’s to you taking a dive with kids that matters.

What are some ways that you’ve found to “go deep” with the next generation?

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  • http://www.pierrecquinn.com/ Pierre Quinn

    We had a panel discussion on family at my church with parents and teens. We couldn’t remember the last time that young people and adults were able to hear each other’s points of view. One church member mentioned that after the service his family went home and continued the discussion. Having the adults share their feelings and fears was key to helping the young people feel safe and open up. I definitely agree with #2 – Be willing to be vulnerable if you want to go deep with your young people. Be careful not to lose your dignity and respect in the process.

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  • Stephanie

    My team building workshops are all about creating a safe place and asking questions that give young people the opportunity to open up. In my experience it’s not that they don’t want to be more open with their friends or teammates, but they don’t typically create those safe environments on their own. Perhaps because they don’t know how, or because they are so distracted it doesn’t even occur to them. At any rate, I’m always pleasantly surprised at the depth of sharing that happens!

  • Alan Spies

    We have a leadership degree option at my university and as the director of the program, we have introduced coaching into the program.  We have been overwhelmed at the response and growth we have seen in our students.  And yes, it all started with creating a safe environment, modeling vulnerability (not necessarily easy for this faculty member to do with his students) and developing relationships with these students.

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