Try thinking of a leader who has inspired you. It’s harder than you might think, perhaps because we initially try to conjure up someone of the calibre of Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. But on a more modest scale, there are a number of figures who serve as role models, perhaps ones we can more easily hope to emulate.
Michelle Obama, Winston Churchill, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Gates and Portuguese political scientist, Bruno Maçães, were among those cited as an inspiration to the 67 young people from 17 international schools across the world on the COBIS (Council of British International Schools) Student Leadership Weekend hosted by King’s Group in Madrid this November.
What were the particular qualities that made these figures stand out?
Isabel C H, a King’s student who runs the student newspaper and hopes to work in human rights, explains her admiration for Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “She has amazing charisma – a sense of humour but she’s also very serious and she appeals to the younger generation despite being 86,” she said, mentioning too her unwavering commitment to women’s rights.
Ravi M, meanwhile, an 18-year-old from South Africa, expressed his admiration for political scientist and author Bruno Maçães who has dedicated much of his time to advocating cultural integration.
Passionate himself about the issue, Ravi said, “Cultural integration is the only way to get rid of radicalism; it is the only way to free people. We have to prioritise the individual over collective identities so we don’t have the same experiences as our parents who lacked leadership skills.”
There is a reason only a few leaders come to mind when we are asked to pick out inspiring figures from recent history, namely that being a good leader requires the exceptional combination of humility, passion and self-belief; humility to accept feedback, passion to inspire and self-belief to communicate the passion effectively.
According to Isabel, who clearly has passion and a quiet yet commanding presence, “The hardest thing about being a good leader is to get others to feel as passionate as you do about an issue.”
Effective communication inevitably entails pubic speaking. But getting up in front of a crowd to expound on a theme, however close to our hearts, can be a sweaty and terrifying experience.
Comedian Jerry Seinfield famously joked, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death.” Death is number two, does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Naturally, then, this was one of the focal points of the COBIS Student Leadership event, which was led by 10 King’s students from Year 11, 12 and 13 with support from Training and Professional Development Manager, Martyn Wiggett, and Deputy Headteacher, Paul Crouch, as well as guest speakers and workshop managers.
Laina Pattni, from Future Foundations, guided the public speaking assignment which involved dividing the 67 students into eight teams who were asked to agree on a global issue they felt unanimously concerned about – no small feat in itself – with a view to coming up with a solution on a local level. The team then got up on stage and each team member delivered an aspect of the topic in front of the other teams who offered feedback in the shape of constructive criticism.
A knee trembling prospect, not least because most of these young people had only just got to know each other. Issues ranged from vaping to plastic pollution, racism, bullying and social media. Working together was paramount and most teams managed to present their topic persuasively. One of the most important tips during the feedback session was to use emphasis to convey passion and engage listeners.
As Laina pointed out, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is not saying anything new, she is just extremely committed to what she is saying, which allows her personality to shine through.
At the end of the public speaking challenge, most of the participants breathed a sigh of relief, but they did concede that the exercise had helped to boost their confidence.
Working in teams was also deemed extremely positive and there was a general consensus among the students that they were privileged to be getting to know new people from a wide range of cultures.
As Sophie, a Year 12 boarder from King’s College Madrid, said, “It’s great to be able to listen to each other without shouting and understand how other people see things.”
Of course, not everyone can be a leader, or can they? Delegating was another skill that was not only honed during the public speaking exercise but also during a three-hour team challenge in the capital.
By delegating, a leader avoids unnecessary stress and allows all the members of his or her team to shine, perhaps in areas in which they themselves are less competent.
This, of course, requires emotional intelligence and King’s Wellbeing expert Alexandra Edwards gave a session on the last day to help develop the skills not only to identify strengths in others but also to identify team members in need of support.