The Step-Up, Step-Back Approach to Leadership
The word LEADERSHIP can prompt all kinds of reactions, as well as debate over whether people are born leaders or learn to be leaders. At OTA, we believe that everyone has the ability to lead! As trusted adults and mentors, we can and must help young people recognize their unique gifts and meet their desire to contribute. Understanding where, when, and how one can contribute effectively is an important aspect of leadership.
When talking with young people, untie the concept of leadership from an association with a title or role and focus instead on the idea that leadership means assessing the needs of a community and working with others toward a unified goal. Using this definition, we can inspire young people to reimagine their ability to contribute and help them build personal skills for community leadership. One successful way to teach and model this definition of leadership is with a step-up or step-back approach.
Stepping up is using your voice to share your thoughts and inspire others to work with you to complete a task.
Stepping up is most appropriate when you have knowledge, experience, or a new idea to share.
Stepping back is listening to the thoughts of others and working to support their vision.
Stepping back is most appropriate when you don’t have specific knowledge or experience with a task, but you are needed in a support role. It is important to recognize that leadership skills and qualities are involved in both stepping up and stepping back. As you can see, redefining leadership as stepping up and stepping back helps a young person see that they do not need to be elected, nominated, or named to find a need and serve.
To enhance their understanding of this approach, try throwing out scenarios to the young people in your care and ask them if they would step up in a particular situation or step back, and then ask them why. A list of scenarios can be found in this month’s Magnets and Mirrors section of our newsletter!
Walking through scenarios with young people in your care creates a chance for you to hear their thoughts about their own strengths and ability to contribute.
This does two things:
1) it gives you a chance to share strengths you see in them that they may not see, and
2) it sparks ideas for opportunities for them to contribute that are aligned with the strengths they believe they have.
This is a powerful exercise that really works to build understanding and connection between young people and the adults in their lives!