Character is described as an important component of personality, or what makes people who they are. Character is that aspect of personality that influences how people behave in their relationships with others. This leads to some people being described as having good character or bad character. Good character is also said to be an essential aspect of leadership. Moreover, recognizing that ‘Character is Important for Youth Leadership,’ emphasizes the significance of cultivating strong character traits in young leaders.

What is Youth Leadership?

Leadership is thought of as the ability to lead others. However, there is often confusion over exactly what leadership encompasses. Some think of leadership as a role given to an individual to provide guidance to others. This may be a role to which someone could be elected. In this case, the role of leadership is a formal one, where the youth leader is in charge of certain aspects of the organization.

Informal Leadership

But leadership does not have to be formal role. It could be informal where an individual is considered a leader because of how others perceive him or her. This could very easily be big brothers and sisters in a family, who are perceived by their younger siblings as people they admire. It could also be the result of friends who see their peers as good examples of how to live and behave.

Informal Leadership

In other words, while some young people could be formally identified as leaders, many others are informally tagged as leaders by others, and in many cases, those who are tagged are unaware of their influence as leaders. S
Some young people are conscious of holding this informal role. It is for this reason that many of them live their lives as good examples for those who emulate them. This is not the same thing as having a lot of followers on social media, because there are situations where these individuals are followed, not because of character, but because of the outlandish things that they do. Of course, there are some young people online who are emulated because they have good characters.

Didn’t Ask for Leadership Role

The position some young people may take is that they did not ask for this leadership role and that they should not be thought of as responsible for other people’s actions. Unfortunately, this leadership role is often something over which they have little control. The little brother who looks up to his big brother often does not stop to think whether his big brother is a worthy leader or not.

Didn’t Ask for Leadership Role

Similarly, an admiring friend may not stop to think that her friend really does not possess the characteristics that make her a good leader. It is therefore even more important now than ever that young people be able to identify a good youth leader, formal or informal.

Who is a Good Leader?

Looking at leadership, Cooper, Sarros and Santora (May/June 2007) point out that society often expects good leaders to be ‘strong in character’, to be authentic, but that this definition is often problematic. Therefore, these authors carried out a study in which they identified dimensions of leadership character: universalism, transformation and benevolence (Cooper et al, May/June 2007).    

Universalism deals with respectfulness, fairness, cooperation, compassion, spiritual respect and humility. Transformation deals with courage, passion, wisdom, competence and self-discipline. Benevolence deals with loyalty, selflessness, integrity, and honesty (Cooper et al., May/June 2007).  According to Cooper et al. (2007), leadership must be seen as encompassing these qualities.

Why is Character So Important

But more recently, two sources have explained the significance of good character to happiness and success in life. Richard V. Reeves, an expert in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, is quoted as saying “[t]he development of character is perhaps the central task of any civilized society and every individual within it.”  As Yuval Levin, Director of Cultural and Social Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, notes, “The formation of character and virtue is the foremost work of our society in every generation.  To fail to engage in it is to regress to pre-civilization barbarism” (Pike & Lickona, 2021).

Relevance of Character to Leadership – Who is a Good Youth Leader?

If a good character is essential to true happiness and success in life, then it follows that leadership, informal or formal, which involves guiding others in their behaviour with others, must be based on leaders having good characters.

A good youth leader is a young person who possesses good character. According to Park and Peterson (April 2009), “Good character is what we look for in leaders, what we look for in teachers and students, what we look for in colleagues at work, what parents look for in their children, and what friends look for in each other. Good character is not the absence of deficits and problems but rather a well-developed family of positive traits.”

Park and Peterson (April 2009) carried out research, The Values in Action (VIA) Project, in which they discussed the strengths of character that they considered important for “optimal development across the lifespan.” These were character strengths they believed youth leaders should possess and which would take them through life. These character strengths identified were wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence (Park & Peterson, April 2009). These authors had undertaken exhaustive and exceptional work in elucidating the components of these strengths of character.

Taken Together

The character strengths that have been identified by Cooper et al. (May/June 2007) and by Park & Peterson (April 2009) have much overlap, showing that youth leadership, like leadership among adults, have certain universal elements that must be given serious consideration. Various youth programs exist and although they may use different strategies and terminologies to teach youth leadership, what stands out is the fact that they all involve education and development of character based on many of the character strengths that were identified above.

A Place for Ethics

However, an ethical component underlies character strengths and values mentioned above. It’s often not explicitly emphasized when discussing leadership. This is the ethics of caring. Despite care’s association with women and feminism, a moral theory insists caring is universally obligatory. It’s equally accessible to both men and women (Ergster, 2007).

A Place for Ethics

Therefore, as a leader, whether formal or informal, male or female, one is called upon to develop a good character and a character that is based on caring.  A good leader would possess a good character, and would also show caring towards others, the aim being to promote a society where people aspire to a society based on happiness and successful living for each other.

Read more about youth leadership and see the many ways young people can develop these skills in Leadership Beyond the Job: 30 Ways for Older Teens and Young Adults to Develop Their Leadership Capabilities by Israelin Shockness. This is an excellent resource not only for young people, but for their parents, youth counsellors and anyone interested in helping youth to develop strong character traits. Also check out the other volumes in the series, at https://www.successfulyouthliving.com/books.

References

Cooper, B. K., Sarros, J. C. & Santora, J. (May/June 2007). The character of leadership. Ivey Business Journal.

Ergster, S. (2007). The Heart of Justice: Care ethics and political theory. Oxford University Press.

Park, N. & Peterson, C. (April 2009). Character Strengths: Research and Practice. Journal of College and Character, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1042

Pike, M. A. & Lickona, T. (2021). Families of character, Schools of character.  In M.A. Pike & T. Lickona (eds.). (2021). Narnian Virtues: Building Good Character with C.S. Lewis. The Lutterworth Press.