Sowing leadership seeds from a young age

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Any discussion about solving South Africa’s challenges (or any country’s or organisation’s, for that matter) eventually comes back to the idea of leadership. Without leadership, there is no action, and without action, there is no change. To change for the better requires people to make tough choices and follow through on them. What our world in flux needs is people with the courage of their convictions, integrity and a strong work ethic. 

I believe that cultivating these traits – and thus future leaders – must begin as young as possible. As John F Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” As our children learn, so they become better equipped to lead. Successful leadership in today’s world is agile, which means that leaders should never stop learning.

South Africa is grappling with pressing issues that range from stubbornly high levels of unemployment, particularly in our youth (at 54.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018), to poverty, inequality and a shaky economic climate, exacerbated by recent issues like electricity supply uncertainty. To overcome these problems and build a successful future, we need a strong leadership element. I believe that teaching leadership must begin at as young an age as possible.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a speech at the Discovery Leadership Summit in late 2018, noted that “leadership should not be contained to one single person, but should be adopted on a multilateral level, across all sectors and industries”. Every person – including every child – can lead where they are at. Leadership is not necessarily about taking charge; it’s about stepping out of one’s comfort zone to do what is right, and for the greater good.

What good is an education that provides excellent academic results, but does not empower children to fulfil their potential and make a positive difference to the world in which they live? In today’s age, we need to focus on educating the “whole child”, considering every aspect – physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

Having been in the education industry for a number of years, I’ve seen that there’s a real hunger in our youth – a hunger for leadership and positive change. This is why we’ve embarked on our #Learners2Leaders campaign, to encourage our children to dare to lead. Though the campaign aims to provide our learners with the tools to learn and grow, it is ultimately up to them to step up to become leaders.

To inspire and encourage our learners to share their moments of leadership or positivity (which in turn can inspire other such actions), we’re rolling out a dare challenge in our classrooms and across our social media channels, similar to the ice-bucket challenge (which saw people dumping a bucket of iced water over their heads to raise awareness and funds for ALS).

We’re encouraging our teachers to take part too, because we want leadership to be both top-down and bottom-up in our schools. We want leadership to be a value that permeates our corridors, classrooms and halls. But what does it mean to lead? We need to explain to our children that leadership can look different for each person. It might mean leading by tutoring a fellow learner who is struggling with a subject that you’re good at, or it could mean befriending the new child in the class, or helping to pick up litter in the street. Leading is stepping up to make a positive change.

My dream is that South Africa’s youth will be taught that they do matter, and that what they do matters. As Magic Johnson, renowned basketball player said, “All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.” And so, in the spirit of our dare to lead challenge, we’re daring South Africa to step up to the task too, to set the right example.

Andries Greyling is the CEO of Curro Holdings.