Young leaders in action

Published 3:43 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to participants in the Falcon Scholars in Action program at the University of Montevallo.

The program is a collaborative effort between the university and Shelby County, in which students work in a variety of non-profit agencies. It’s a wonderful opportunity for young people to get lessons in service and social responsibility, but most of all I see it as a training ground for tomorrow’s leaders.

It is a lesson in leadership for the 21st century born out of the opportunity to see in close relief the lives of people many students consider significantly different from themselves, and to witness these same individuals overcome unfortunate circumstances.

Tomorrow’s leaders will be faced with similarly unfamiliar and challenging situations shaped by uncertain global economies, unsustainable consumption of our natural resources and shifting sociopolitical power structures.

In this increasingly complex world, old-fashioned top-down leadership won’t work because what is considered the top is constantly changing.

A new way of leading is needed, one that harnesses all of our human potential no matter where it might be found to tackle our common problems. I like to think of it as enlightened leadership.

Enlightened leaders empower others.

That means that they are able to see the potential each of us possess to contribute to whatever the task at hand may be and allow that potential to be realized.

At times that means they must give up some control to let those closest to a situation show them what needs to be done.

With old-fashioned leadership, the leader rides in to save the day. Given the complexity of the current problems we face, no one person can save the day alone.

Sustainable solutions take collaborative effort.

An example of this is the way staff and volunteers at Shelby Emergency Assistance help people experiencing financial difficulties work toward self-sufficiency.

As a result, followers become leaders, developing new and creative ways to address our most persistent and perplexing problems.

As I looked into the enthusiastic faces of the Falcon Fellows in Action with all of these thoughts running through my mind, I saw Shelby County’s bright and enlightened future.

Kimberly Barrett is the vice president for student affairs at the University of Montevallo.