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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Where Real Leadership Begins

I just met Abbey, a 21-year-old university student, who is so bright and so gifted, I told her with a smile that I’d likely be working for her one day.

She blushed.

I mention Abbey because she’s like so many students I meet these days. She serves “behind the scenes” in two clubs, is attentive in class and is keenly interested in leadership development. Yet, at the same time, she doesn’t really see herself as a leader. When I asked why, she (and too many others) define leadership with a job title, or a position. Abbey was obviously humble, but I don’t think she was honest with herself. She has far more leadership capacity than she realizes, but she is waiting for some older adult to “authorize” her with a leadership position or a badge.

I share Abbey’s story with you because I believe it’s up to us—established positioned professionals—to challenge today’s young leaders to shift their sense of identity. Leadership has less to do with a title and more to do with identifying our gifts and serving them up to the world around us. It’s less about a position and more about a disposition. The moment students see leadership as leveraging their influence through solving problems and serving people, the more they’ll envision themselves as leaders.

Meet Virgil Smith

I just met Virgil Smith (via video), a young teen in Texas who didn’t wait for someone to give him a title before he led others. Virgil is a quiet, humble, soft-spoken 13-year-old student who probably doesn’t see himself as a leader. But, he just modeled brilliant leadership and hardly spoke a word about it afterward.

You see, Virgil Smith is an eighth grader who saved 17 people from the flooding after Hurricane Harvey, near Houston. Not only that, much of this life-saving activity took place around 2:00 a.m. Yep, when most people were trying to sleep, he wasn’t able to sleep until he knew those around him were OK. So, he grabbed an inflatable raft and paddled around the neighborhoods near his home—pulling people out of dangerous, flooded homes. He sacrificed time, energy, sleep and his own safety. When word got out, Virgil was given a standing ovation from his classmates, some of whom he saved from the disaster.

Here is a YouTube video containing the story:

Virgil didn’t know what to do or what to say when others shared their gratitude for what he’d done. He’s a teen of few words. He did admit, through tears, that it felt good. I bet if you spoke to Virgil Smith, he wouldn’t tell you he sees himself as a great leader. But he saved 17 lives and influenced his entire school, quietly, boldly and, at first, by acting alone. This is essentially where leadership begins: it’s an inside job before it’s an outside job. Leadership often begins with a negative emotion; a feeling of dissatisfaction with current conditions. Ultimately, it drives someone to:

  • Solve problems
  • Serve people

Growing Leaders vs. Everyday Students

Both Abbey and Virgil are two examples of the kind of emerging leaders we are trying to develop at Growing Leaders. They are different than the everyday student.

They are counter-cultural. They are marked by these characteristics:

Everyday Students Growing Leaders
1. Self-absorbed 1. Sacrificial
2. Imitate others 2. Authentic
3. Apathetic 3. Committed
4. Consuming 4. Generous
5. Presumptuous 5. Grateful
6. Controlling 6. Empowering
7. Status quo 7. Hungry mind
8. What can I get? 8. What can I give?
9. It's about the money 9. It's about a mission
10. Blend in 10. Stand out

This year, we’d be honored to partner with you at your school, athletic department, business, after-school program, or youth group—and resource you to transform what you might assume are “everyday students” into “growing leaders.” We have a team of speakers, we have curriculum for learning communities and we offer game plans for ongoing leader development. Click Here to Explore How This Could Work.

Looking to Develop Young Adults into Growing Leaders?
Check out:
Habitudes: The Art of Self-Leadership

The Art of Self-Leadership
helps students and young adults:

  • Build strong character based on integrity and emotional security
  • Develop habits of self-discipline and initiative to achieve their goals
  • Choose their own set of core values for making wise decisions in life.
  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Identify their unique strengths and passions for a healthy self-image.

View Free Sample & Order Here


  1. Karen Long on January 25, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I just read the article “Where Leadership Begins” and I couldn’t agree more. I am the parent of two boys. One is in college and the other just completed the application process and will start college in the Fall 2018. I am so frustrated and discouraged with the college application process. There is way too much emphasis on The leadership “POSITIONS” on applications rather than examples where leadership was demonstrated by a person who “identified his/her gifts and served them up to the world around them.” We need to get the colleges to see that leadership is more than a position.

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Where Real Leadership Begins