It is never too early to start talking with young people about the importance of their own leadership responsibility and reputation.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was asked if I would speak to a group of high school students about leadership. I agreed to do so even though in the past I have found some high school students to be a difficult audience. A few years ago, when I asked a group of high school students if they had anything they wanted me to address, two question surfaced.
The first question from a young man was, “Hey man, what kind of car do you drive?” When I told him he was not impressed. The second question was, “How much money do you make?” I told him I made far more than I ever imagined when I was his age so I suggested that he finish school.
I finally started talking about leadership using sports as my example. This was perfect for the boys and they listened intently and told me they learned a lot that morning about their own personal leadership responsibility. With the girls I talked about teen pregnancy and they really listened to me.
This time the students I spoke to were quite attentive and had lots of great questions. It turns out that they were all considered the leadership group for the school from the captains of the sports teams to the students involved in student government.
I told them I realized how tough high school years are because I remember my years in high school where I suffered from low self-confidence. I told them I understood that many of them came from divorced families like I did and that I knew that many of them had witnessed poor leadership at home even in families where their parents had stayed together.
I told them I understood how self-esteem suffers when we are in an environment which does not feel safe and secure. The more I talked the quieter it got in that high school auditorium. There was no laughing or cutting up. They were focused on what I was saying.
The teacher who had asked me to come and speak to students sent me an email later in the day telling me the students wanted to talk about my speech when they got back to their class rooms. She said that I had said one thing which really got their attention and that they agreed with.
I had said to them in my talk that they all need to learn to say nice things about their fellow class mates behind their backs and to not be petty and negative and that they should remember that everyone has problems that no one else knows about and that everyone has enough worries and problems in their lives without others making it even worse for them.
At the end of my talk a young woman who was in the 11th grade came up to me and said,
“Thank you for talking with us this morning. I have experienced everything you talked about this morning but I now understand that I have the potential to be a good leader. Your talk inspired me.”
This acknowledgement from her made my day! All of us have the potential to be great role models for others. Young people are especially hungry for these kinds of discussions. Do what you can to recognize, appreciate and encourage others to be the best leaders they can be.