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Leadership: Through the Eyes of Youth

Angela Harris

Prior to starting my company, I worked at a couple of places, which will remain nameless, where leadership meant ruling the company through one set of eyes.

On one occasion, I was told by the board president that I couldn’t come to meetings because of my youth and (assumed) inexperience. There was another time where I was reprimanded by a boss for suggesting alternative ways to market, because she thought I was putting her ways down.

I have always said that I am thankful for all of my work experiences, especially the dysfunctional ones, because I have learned exactly what NOT to do. Now, leading my own company, I often take the time to reflect on my past experiences, and this week, I had the chance to observe 20 incredibly talented youth demonstrate the power that creativity has on transforming and developing leadership capabilities.

As a leader, sometimes being part of the team is just as important as delegating. Building up other members of the team to feel confident in their leadership abilities should enhance the company, not serve as grounds for a power struggle. Working as a cohesive unit sometimes requires leaving your tenure at the door, and being open to hearing, learning, and communicating with everyone in your organization, without letting your status trump that of someone younger or less experienced.

My company, Dance Canvas, holds a three-week summer choreographic intensive. The students, ages 13-19, spend 30 hours a week in dance classes, this year receiving master classes with dancers from Philadanco, Alvin Ailey, Ron K. Brown/Evidence, and The Georgia Ballet.

But, the unique part of this summer intensive is that students spend 10 hours each week in leadership, team building, and production planning courses. The students are then tasked with choreographing and producing a performance at the end of the three weeks. They are broken into work groups to manage the production: Event Planning, Media Relations, Online Promotion, and Design.

In two short weeks, these students not only created the building blocks for their production, but also established a fully functioning work force, effectively managing a large project. The artistic collaboration between the students is one that I wish I could replicate with the professional dance community.

This program has taught me to never underestimate the brilliance of intrigued minds. The students jumped at the challenge to produce their own show…to have their voices heard in a professional arena. They proposed new ways to interact with audiences through a YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, text message, and Tumbler campaign. They wrote thoughtful press releases, and customized the releases for three different media outlets.

They began recording every master class, and interviewing both the students and the guest instructors. They cut their lunch breaks short to hop back into the studio to rehearse their choreography. Each day, I witness students encouraging, motivating, and challenging each other to be their best.

So, I have been contemplating why this program has been so effective. How a group of strangers could come together and in three weeks be a stronger organization than some that I have worked for in my adult life.

And then I realized, creative team building, commitment to a common goal, and leadership all go hand-in-hand. We can learn a lot from youth that have not been jaded by dysfunctional work environments.

These students realized early on that the goal was not to judge each other, to look down on fellow students, or to push others down to get ahead, as many do in an intensive work setting. They realized that in order to achieve their goal of producing a show, each of them had to be a leader, in some capacity, and each of them had to chip in.

I appreciate the fresh spirit of these hard working teens and will report back on the outcome of their performance next Friday entitled: “NEXT steps…”!

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