It is county fair week in my community. As a 4-Her growing up, and a 4-H leader as an adult, fair week was the culmination of a year’s worth of work (granted, with a lot of it crammed into the last few weeks before the fair!) and truly the highlight of the summer. Without a doubt, 4-H laid the foundation for the leadership skills I use on a daily basis — public speaking, record keeping, long-range planning, time management, creativity, imagination, strategy, and working as part of a team. “Head, heart, hands and health”, and “learning by doing” are still a part of my approach to leadership, even all these years later.
Like any endeavor, 4-Hers gets out of the experience what they — and the volunteer leaders who guide their efforts — put into it. Maybe your first opportunities for leadership came through scouts, or boys and girls club, or another organization that encouraged skill development from an early age. While often overlooked or taken for granted, it is the volunteer leaders who make such opportunities possible . . . volunteer leaders who encourage, guide, and occasionally cajole young people to stretch and grow and glimpse their potential.
For years at conferences and gatherings of leaders I have heard, and continue to hear, that one of the top organizational concerns is the lack of people willing to step into leadership roles. Organizations are investing significant resources into leadership development activities for their staff members with mixed results, and wringing their hands over what will happen when the current organizational leaders retire. Maybe, just maybe, we need to move upstream and not wait until a senior executive is approaching retirement to think about cultivating new leaders.
Maybe the most effective strategy for leadership development comes in the form of a wide-eyed kid who wants to be part of something. Maybe it’s time we leaders pay it forward by finding a way to engage with a young person, to help them see and choose from a host of possibilities to develop their leadership skills . . . when they are 8 or 10 or 12, rather than waiting until they are 25 or 30 to start. Yes, I know you don’t have time to volunteer. No doubt your to-do list is overflowing and you are being pulled in too many directions. One of them might even be to figure out how to develop the leadership skills of your staff . . .
Part of a leader’s job is to make investments in the long-term. That’s our kids, your workforce of tomorrow. And I’ll let you in on a little secret . . . the kids aren’t the only ones who will learn and grow in the process. You will too. Learning by doing indeed.
See you at the fair.