My name is Ralph Edward Brown. I’m currently an eighth-grade student at the Newton County Theme School. This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC) in Washington, D.C. I was one of 294 scholars from around the country identified as a future leader. This was an awesome experience for me. Thanks go to my seventh-grade teacher, Ms. Holly Kaas, for nominating me and serving as my mentor.
The JrNYLC is a unique six-day leadership program. Its goal is to introduce middle-school students to the rich tradition of leadership throughout American history, while helping them develop their own leadership skills. During the conference, I took part in specially designed small-group activities, presentations and site explorations throughout the Washington, D.C., area.
As we studied leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we were given major assignments.
My first assignment was to come up with a personal definition of leadership. I defined leadership as having the ability to see a vision and being inspired to motivate others to join you in taking ownership of that vision.
In today’s world, the path to good leadership seems to grow harder and harder to follow. Crime, hate, bitterness and doubt (among our leaders) join a host of other factors that are causing young children and young adults of today to give up on their dream to become leaders.
There is good leadership and bad leadership. In order to become not just a leader but a good leader, I think a person must possess and demonstrate the following unique leadership qualities:
A good leader must know how to lead. When a leader allows things not good for the people he leads to happen in the organization, then that person has failed at being a good leader.
A good leader demonstrates behavior that fits the organization he or she leads.
A good leader must make it known that he/she is in charge and has full authority over what is going on. If the leader does not take charge then that leader should know that he/she will be considered unproductive.
Another quality of good leaders is how they answer questions and how they present themselves under stress. A person’s reputation can be ruined with even the slightest slip up of a word. That is why leaders in high authority should watch what they say and to whom they say it. If the leader is asked a question he/she feels uncomfortable about answering, he/she should stay calm because someone is always watching and listening.
A good leader must know how to follow even when leading. This means that even though he/she is in control of the organization, he/she can still empathize with the people he or she is leading. When a leader possesses this quality, he/she knows what’s important to the people he/she is leading. The connection with the members of his/her group is very strong compared to groups who have leaders without this quality. When the leader knows how the people feel and what they want, you have quality.
A good leader must always know what’s going on in his/her organization. An organization shows no sign of leadership when it is full of mischief and trouble. A knowledgeable leader is respected.
A leader needs to know his/her role in any situation. In other words, I think a good leader must have integrity, be responsible, influential, knowledgeable and ambitious, and be a risk-taker. A good leader listens and is accountable for his/her actions.
Everyone wants to be a good leader, but many fail to reach his/her potential. Bad leaders fail to possess the qualities I mentioned, causing their group/organization to end up ruined. Good leaders follow all the qualities I’ve mentioned above and go above and beyond to ensure stability in their organizations. With good leadership, the group/organization will prosper and grow.
Our second assignment required me and my team to develop a mission statement for a company we would establish. There were 15 other scholars in my diverse group of Dutch, Asian, Hispanic and African descent. As leaders, we were given two choices for our company: recycling or natural disasters. There was a lot of discussion about the impact natural disasters have on people, their families, their homes, and their communities. We agreed that since natural disasters affect everybody and every language has a word for HELP, our company would be a relief organization.
Our company would be known for helping all people in need get back on their feet following a natural disaster. Our company would help because this would be the right thing to do. Because of our good leadership, people in need would trust and believe in us, knowing that we are driven by our mission statement: "Stronger than the storm we come to perform."
Lessons from Lincoln
For our third assignment, we had to identify a person, past or present, who we thought was a good leader.
I chose Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln is a person who has made a lasting impression on me because of his leadership. Driven by his compassion for the people, President Lincoln accepted the responsibility to make a difference in America so that every citizen would be guaranteed their equal rights.
A good leader must take responsibility for every positive thing and every negative thing that happens under his/her leadership. The leader must be accountable for every decision made, whether made alone or with guidance from others. President Lincoln took responsibility for every decision he made, from signing the Emancipation Proclamation to signing the Thirteenth Amendment, the Homestead Act and the National Banking Acts.
When he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln was taking full responsibility for a document meant to free slaves. He chose to become a risk-taker, ignoring the screams of those who saw its enactment as a threat to the economy.
Good leaders must be knowledgeable and have integrity. These characteristics enable a person to take tough criticism and do the work that needs to be done. Knowledgeable leaders who have integrity earn the respect of the people they are leading. President Lincoln was knowledgeable about everything he did.
He was able to see the horror of the Civil War, and listen to the people while holding to his conviction to end slavery. His strong integrity and influence helped him convince others to join his side. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address assured us, as Americans that a brighter day was ahead.
Good leaders must not only be self-motivated, but they must motivate others as well. If a leader is not motivated, the vision will have no backbone and, therefore, cannot thrive and grow. President Lincoln’s vision to see the North and the South united as one was fulfilled and has made a lasting impression on America to this day.
Bad leaders usually lack ambition and are unable to make good decisions. President Lincoln is one of those good leaders whose influence is an inspiration to future generations. His motivation, drive and rigor will continue to guide others for years to come. Today, it is easy to distinguish the difference between good leaders and bad leaders. The results speak for themselves.
I am inspired by what President Abraham Lincoln once said, "Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm."
My final assignment was to share my experience with my local community. Thanks to The Covington News for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and my adventure.