Almost everywhere I travel, I meet everyday students who are doing extraordinary things. They are teens who’ve caught a vision to do something beyond making good grades or staying out of trouble, and their communities benefit as a result.
I love the students at Kennesaw Mountain High School who years ago decided they would host a prom night for special needs kids in their area. They realized that many of those kids would never be asked to a dance or a gala, so they initiated an annual prom where many of the most popular kids in the school host, encourage, and dance with disabled teens. It’s an emotional experience to see their smiles.
I love the students at Travis High School who three years ago asked their principal if she would have the school painted since it looked so drab. When Principal Julie Diaz said there wasn’t enough money in the budget to do it, those students asked if they could take on the project themselves. The school now looks beautiful because the teens got paint donated, raised money for equipment, and recruited student volunteers to get it done.
I could go on with similar stories of both secondary school and college students who didn’t wait for an adult to do something and, often, didn’t wait for permission from an adult before they did something magnificent.
What Makes It Happen?
What I love most about these students is they didn’t have a badge or a title. They weren’t necessarily student council members, team captains, or club presidents. They were simply students who began to:
- Think like leaders.
- Act like leaders.
Instead of waiting for authorization or for a position, they acted on their desires to serve people and solve problems. The advantages of this mindset are spectacular.
The Benefits of Thinking Like a Leader
So, if you’re a parent, educator, coach, or employer of students, what are the advantages of young adults assuming the mindset and actions of a leader? Let me suggest three.
1. They think beyond their self-interests and look for the bigger picture.
Social media conditions millions of users to be narcissistic, tracking likes, views, and shares while posting selfies multiple times a day. Today’s kids have grown up with this reality. When students begin to think like authentic leaders, they take interest in injustices or problems beyond their self-interests. Eventually, students show symptoms of seeing the bigger picture, empathizing with others, and desiring what’s best for other groups outside of themselves.
Do you remember Ruby Kate Chitsey, who had to join her mom as she did her rounds at a retirement home in Arkansas? Ruby waited in absolute boredom until she noticed the elderly people needed basic things to be happy. At 11 years old, Ruby asked them what they wished for and raised money to get it.
2. They think ahead, beyond today’s happiness or pleasure. They see long term.
Social media also tends to coerce people to think of only the here and now. We get FOMO seeing pictures of our friends’ best vacations ever or the parties they threw the night before night. Students tend to focus on happiness today instead of readiness tomorrow. Ever heard of instant gratification? Students who think and act like leaders are counter-cultural, thinking about the future and how to make it better. And they can sacrifice today on behalf of tomorrow.
Do you remember Denis Estimon, the student who started We Dine Together at Boca Raton High School? Seeing so many peers eating alone at lunchtime, he began a movement to ensure everyone had friends to eat with. Once he graduated, he began traveling and the movement now has 100 chapters across the country.
3. They think about solutions, not just problems. Their lenses are facing the challenges.
When students begin to think and act like leaders, they begin to think in terms of solutions, not just problems. Their conversations evolve from complaining about what’s wrong to envisioning what could solve a crisis. They want to act not just talk. Often, the kids don’t wait for someone in authority to go first. It’s amazing to see the ownership they take.
Do you remember Virgil Smith? He was the middle school student who played video games with his friend as Hurricane Harvey hit Dickinson, Texas, where he lived. He got his mom and sister to the next apartment floor for safety but got a call from his friend whose home was flooding. Virgil grabbed an air mattress and paddled over to his friend’s home to save his friend and 16 other people that night.
I challenge you to equip your students to think like leaders and look for these symptoms as they do. Who knows what might happen?
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