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Encouraging Leadership in Challenging Times

On Wednesday, January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States of America. What would normally be a day focused on celebration was made more profound and somber by the violence that took place inside the Capitol Building just two weeks before the inauguration. President Biden also takes office at a time of great challenges. With over 400,000 US citizens dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, millions without jobs, the realities of systemic racism in full view, and myriad other issues, leadership, particularly at the highest levels of government, is sorely needed.  

 What is effective leadership? How does it get cultivated? Since leadership is fundamental to the work of the Civic Education Project (CEP) at CTD, Lindsay Wall Succari, Program Coordinator for CEP, recently sat down for an interview to discuss what good leadership looks like and how students of all ages can practice it. 

Q: What US citizens, and the world, saw on January 6 was something that seemed unthinkable even just ten years ago. Many, including President-Elect Joe Biden, have said that the attack on the Capitol isn’t reflective of what America is, but that doesn’t change or remedy the fact that it still happened here. What would you say to young people who are anxious about what could happen next, but still want to make a difference in their country and their community?

I’d recommend staying informed about what’s going on, but set limits on how much you’re reading and talking about it. What happened in Washington, DC was traumatic for many of us, and we need to be patient with ourselves as we – and the rest of the country – work to make sense and meaning of it.

Leaders throughout history have urged us to think about “how did we get here, and where do we go from here?” I’ve heard the same urging from the Biden-Harris team in recent days. Reflecting on these questions as an individual, and talking about them with your friends, families, and communities can be a great starting place.

In terms of staying engaged and making a difference – I think it’s important to know what you stand for, and think about how you can work with others on an issue or topic that’s important to you. In my opinion, much of what is happening right now is a result of us not valuing each other as humans and as Americans. It is also important to be informed and have the skills to think critically about complex issues. The more opportunities we can provide for our young people to work together towards a common goal, the stronger our communities will be.

Q: When I hear the word “leadership”, I think of people in roles like President of the United States or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but positions of leadership don’t always have titles and don’t always need to be formal. What are some ways in which you help young people reevaluate and redefine their idea of leadership?

One definition of leadership is “taking responsibility for people or processes.” One thing I appreciate about this definition is it provides space for all of us to think about what we’re good at, and where our talents can be used for the broader good – whether it’s within our families, with our friends, our classrooms, or the broader community. Some ideas might be:

  • Assisting your brother or sister with a chore or homework assignment
  • Asking your teacher if you can help lead a lesson or activity during class
  • Helping a neighbor shovel their sidewalk

I’d encourage young people to think about leadership as a practice – something we get stronger at the more we engage in it.

Here are some questions a family can engage with their students in around taking stock of what’s happening in their worlds, and how they might think about applying their leadership skills.

Q: A part of civic engagement is dealing with the occasional failure and disappointment. Your preferred candidate might lose an election, or a local initiative that you support might not pass. We saw what happened when people act on that disappointment in destructive and dangerous ways, but how do you advise young civically engaged students to deal with disappointment in a constructive manner?

First, taking time to feel our feelings about a failure or a disappointment is important. It can be frustrating, embarrassing, or confusing when things don’t go as we had hoped.

When we’re ready to move forward, taking time to analyze 1) what happened and 2) what we could change or do differently next time to set up for success is key to learning from the experience. It might feel uncomfortable to think about what went wrong – particularly if it was something we were responsible for – but again, this is a practice.

We need our young people to be thinking about and cultivating their leadership skills! Wherever you’re at in that process, I’d encourage you to make time for it. Our new Leadership Intensive courses are a great place to start!


Lindsay Wall Succari is the Program Coordinator of the Civic Education Project at CTD. The CEP team has developed a new series of courses in a Leadership Intensive series that will provide opportunities for students to discuss many of these ideas around leadership. Winter, Spring and Summer leadership courses are now open for applications – learn more.



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