The question of gun regulation is a volatile one, but no matter where you stand on the issue, you can justifiably be proud of the way young people have jumped into activism in recent weeks. American youth now seem to be taking leadership roles on for themselves, as seen this weekend at marches and rallies across the country.
Young people organized these marches. They led them and walked in them and let their voices be heard. Students are using #neveragain to unite via social media and add their voices to the issue. March 14 was a national school walkout with thousands of students, teachers and political leaders pausing for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed in Florida in February.
What can all of this tell us about leadership? The emergence of people not even old enough to drive as a political force is encouraging.
Being a leader means that people follow you because of what you stand for, what you speak out about, the strength of your character and vision. Leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders.
Social media has made it possible for young people to “lead” without any formal authority, without a title, without anything but a following. For students who are speaking out about gun control, millions are following them. We call them “smart mobs” and social media accelerates their messages.
What do leaders do? They use their passion to fuel action. They speak up and sometimes shout. They don’t back away out of fear of judgment or repercussions. They take frustration and anger and turn it into something good for the rest of us.
As an expert on leadership, what advice would I give to those who see an opportunity to lead without authority? Three things:
First, ground your argument in the heart of the issue. Find supportive evidence about why others should care about what you care about.
Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a speaker at the March 24 Rally in Washington, D.C., had done her homework. She had data and facts to back up her assertions. She cited the number of mass shootings around the world – in Australia, Japan, Canada, the UK and the US. She pointed to the Tinker v. Des Moines law about students protesting the Vietnam war and winning the right to demonstrate.
Second, don’t worry about being judged.
Gun control is a highly controversial issue. People have strong opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong. Leaders often face issues that have this kind of polarization built into them. Leaders are people who believe that they have a right to their opinion and perspective. The key is to prepare for strong opposition. This may test your resolve, especially if the opposition is fierce. Hold your ground, keep your feet under you, gather your courage and continue to speak up.
Third, share your passion with anyone who will listen.
Great leaders keep going. They persevere, never losing sight of their passion, of what they care about. Repetition is the key to getting others to take action. You may have to deliver your message a thousand times, through a thousand different channels in order for it to resonate. The good news is that thanks to the internet, a strong message can be viewed over and over and passed into the hands of millions within hours.
So, go ahead and be a leader. Our world needs more of them.