By Ron Beleno, Youth Job Action Centre

Over my years working with and coaching youth, the topic of leadership comes up as a lesson. I often ask young people the question, “What does leadership mean to you?” Common responses usually include a title or position such as, “the boss of a company” or “the principal of the school”. Many times they simply limit their view of a leader to a person with a title in a power position. Especially for newcomer youth, I often hear their definition of leadership is “the Prime Minister of Canada”.

Getting youth to embrace the idea that they have the power within them to be leaders in their daily lives without having any title attached is an insight that everyone can achieve. All it takes is one champion in their life whether it is a parent, teacher, mentor, or fellow youth, to make them understand that leadership does not need a title. More importantly, a leader is somebody aware of how their individual choices and actions affect, first and foremost, themselves, and then how they affect other people.

For newcomer youth, a common and natural choice is to take the role of a follower in order to be accepted in their host country. Feeling accepted amongst peers is usually one of the most important things during the first few years of settlement because fitting in creates a sense of belonging. Seeking comfort with other youth that are also new to the country or from the same culture is normal. For newcomers, spending time with friends and family who speak the same language, eat the same foods, and understand each other’s values makes the adjustment an easier one.

All youth, but especially newcomers, have always had to face challenges of peer and cultural pressures and it takes a sense of individual leadership to pursue the best possible path.

Getting to Know Yourself

Leaders must learn how to lead themselves first, before they can lead others. Without knowing who you are, the values that are important to you, and what your priorities are, it will be difficult to be any kind of leader.

Learning to lead requires discovery and willingness to step out of the comfort zone of what you know. Whenever I see a youth talking about their friends and family “back home”, I remind them that all those people who support them overseas want them to succeed. They should understand and be proud that their own parents are considered leaders by other families back home, simply for bringing their families to this new and unfamiliar land.

Leadership can take on many forms and it definitely is not only limited to adults. Whether it is on a soccer team or in the classroom, the opportunities for youth to show leadership are everywhere. With the proper support, youth can learn that leadership is not simply a position of power, but more the ability to empower oneself to be in a position to lead themselves and others. For newcomer youth, an example could simply be introducing their family to a new food from a different country once a month. You can also invite new friends over to experience a festivity from your culture. Sometimes the actions may be a great success and sometimes even a failure. Either way, the act of leadership, coming from a youth, should always be supported.

Youth interested in developing some leadership skills, should check out the YMCA’s Newcomer Youth Leadership Development program here.

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