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Cascade Matters is the blog of Cascade Educational Consultants. Cascade has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. We are committed to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens. Learn more about us.

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Where Do We Look for Leadership?

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There is a striking exchange in the 1995 Michael Douglas movie, “The American President.” There is a crisis in the White House and a member of the fictional President’s staff says, “People want leadership. And in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership, Mr. President. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

It may feel bit like nostalgia for the “good old days,” but I believe I was fortunate to have been raised in an era where genuine leadership felt like a daily occurrence. I saw leadership from political, business, non-profit, religious and family leaders. I saw leaders who expressed their values. I recall leaders who acted accordingly without the benefit of a poll to help target the needs of their constituents. Leaders who truly engaged to understand challenges, needs and strengths.

I believe this leadership is lacking today in our social institutions. I am not sure of all the causes of the erosion of genuine leadership, but I do know that as a nation we need to find it, enhance it and sustain it. Otherwise, we become vulnerable to leadership based on fear, threats and coercion.

So where do we look for genuine leadership?

This type of leadership today comes less from formal structures and responsibilities and more from passion, courage and will of outstanding people. While there are adults who manifest genuine leadership many of these leaders are young, high school and college-age individuals committed to making significant changes in their lives and the lives of others.

Our young leaders face challenges rather than run from them; they confront data instead of ignoring or making it up; they focus on engaging everyone rather than the privileged few; and they dedicate themselves to navigating current systems as they use their energies and power to change them.

Youth identify the challenges that face them and others and use their insights and unique perspectives to address education, environment and community development issues. They recognize that leadership is not something you learn by reading a book, but through experiences, interactions and collaborative efforts to acquire and enhance their skills to lead and make positive impacts.

These leaders often use social media to help find the right balance between technology and personal interactions to share and learn together. Using Twitter, Facebook and e-mail while finding or creating venues for face-to-face interactions. These tools are now indispensible.

We find these leaders in organizations such as the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, the Special Olympics Project UNIFY Youth Activation Committee and newly created Youth Voice.

I encourage us all to consider and support the leadership of our youth. They genuinely engage in making positive differences in individuals, organizations, institutions, communities and our nation.

Oh yea, the president’s response in the movie to his staff member’s plea? “People don’t drink the sand, ‘cause they’re thirsty, Lewis. They drink it ‘cause they don’t know the difference.”

We know the difference between genuine leadership and a mirage. Look to our youth and their steadfast commitment to making differences that make a difference.

About the author: Terry Pickeral, president Cascade Educational Consultants has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.


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