This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

Today’s youth live in a world that is chaotic and busy. How can they learn to take initiative, stand out and embrace leadership roles?

Denise Delaney-Wrolen, director of American Legion Auxiliary Hoosier Girls State, suggests that, “as parents and teachers we can encourage [leadership] by giving our young men and women more responsibilities and opportunities to become leaders. Being good role models and mentors to them and encouraging them every step of the way can give them the confidence and courage they need to become a good leader and to be successful.”

Hoosier Girls State teaches young women who are between their junior and senior years of high school the ins and outs of responsible citizenship and leadership. A similar program, American Legion Hoosier Boys State, teaches young men of the same age related principles. Both programs create a mock government and instruct youth about different aspects of the political process, such as campaigning, elections and debating.

Brandon Krause, media manager and webmaster for Hoosier Boys State, agreed that adults have the power to encourage youth in their leadership responsibilities.

“First, parents and teachers should encourage questions and curiosity,” said Krause. “This builds the confidence to interact with people. Do not shut down bad ideas. Instead, challenge the idea’s shortcomings and make the youth defend the idea in a constructive manner, or try modifying the idea with a suggestion. This method keeps their creative gears turning. Second, is to be willing to give youth responsibility appropriate to their level, or a little above it, and let them own it. You would be surprised how often youth are able to rise to the occasion.”

Krause remembered one young man, a potential scholarship recipient, who exemplified leadership. This individual was involved

November Boys State

in programs at his school and in his local community and was leading a program that raised scholarship money for other high school students.

“Here we were interviewing him to see if he’d receive one of the program’s scholarships, and he was already awarding others with scholarship money,” said Krause. “Shortly after graduating…he sent a letter thanking the program and notifying us that he was initiating a program to help military veterans. Amazing.”

Youth can get involved and take on leadership roles in a variety of ways depending on their interests, but active participation is required.

“Young people have lots of opportunities to take on leadership [roles],” said Gruver, director of civic education programs for the Indiana Bar Foundation. “They can start by simply engaging with their peers and really listen to the things that people care about. There are a multitude of groups for young people to get involved with in their school, their church, neighborhood organizations, afterschool clubs, extracurricular activities, etc. The first step is joining something and getting active. Statistics today are showing an overall decline in millennials’ desire to join and be members of identifiable groups. That’s a real challenge for the development of leadership skills in the future.”

Gruver runs a program called “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution,” which includes curriculum that instructs elementary, middle and high school students on the history and principles of U.S. constitutional democracy. At the end of the program, students can participate in a simulated congressional hearing. Parents and educators can learn about “We the People” and other educational programs from the Indiana Bar Foundation by clicking here.

Most people would agree that life skills are important for everyone to develop. What makes leadership particularly vital?

November Girls State“Learning about leadership at a younger age allows individuals the opportunity to build a solid foundation of skills that will be important later in life,” said Krause. “In this early stage, youth can explore their self-identity and expand their self-awareness. It’s a stage where one can start with simple, small tasks. When each task is accomplished, it is a victory and a boost in confidence. With that boost in confidence, the youth will be more inclined to take on another, more challenging task. Each new task offers complexity that results in further development of a wide range of important skills.”

Delaney-Wrolen agreed, adding that leadership is “important to our youth because they are the future leaders of our country and the world. It is our responsibility to prepare them to be active participants in our democratic society. Our youth need to grow up to be confident and well-educated to take on the role of our leaders to ensure the future of our society.”

Ultimately, it is up to adults to step in as mentors to show youth what good leadership is all about.

“I think a good leader leads by example,” said Gruver. “A good leader is a great listener, and respects those he or she leads. A good leader communicates regularly, effectively and efficiently. A good leader is willing to make tough decisions and is accountable for the decisions he or she makes.

“A good leader is one that can work well with any type of individual, be a team player and be willing to listen to others’ opinions and truly value their opinions,” said Delaney-Wrolen. “A good leader should also possess good problem-solving skills and work well under pressure. Good leadership skills can make the difference between [the] success or failure of any project.”