What College Students Understand Better Than So-Called Leaders Themselves

As the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee convened publicly on Friday, I got a welcome break from the madness that provided renewed hope for the future.

I had the privilege of speaking to student organization leaders at Oakland Community College, whose advisors invited me to begin a planning session by speaking on how and why leadership matters during a crisis and other times of adversity. I was hoping for more of a discussion than a speech and, thanks to a focused, sharp group of students, that is what I was able to enjoy.

While the public spotlight remains on elected officials who, too often are called “leaders” whether or not that label is earned, it was refreshing to hear from motivated young people who, in their own language, understand that leadership is defined by words like “service,” “listening” and “providing clear direction.” They clearly understand why audiences, not personal preservation, must come first in times of trouble, better than some business groups that have heard similar programs.

These students seem to clearly grasp that when things to wrong, audiences need:

-Facts, not excuses

-Strength, not weakness

-Guidance, not cowering

-Listening, as much as talking

-Reassurance, not fear

-Concern, not hiding

Heads nodded when hearing examples of leaders who have done the tough things, not the easy things, in times of crisis, actually admitting mistakes and communicating a plan forward.

These students are at the point in their lives where they haven’t yet been tainted by corporate or any other politics. Their commitment to accepting leadership opportunities for the right reasons, rather than for a fatter paycheck, can be a reminder of the qualities and values that are possible, even with a leadership void that is too often present in the headlines