The Inspiration of Young Leaders


“I think the secret of leadership is to believe in and enjoy the people you lead.” What do you think? Please write me your leadership tips & advice below!


“My name is Sarah and my favourite superhero is Batman.”

She spoke steadily into the camera, then glanced sideways at me for affirmation.

I was at the training grounds for young leaders last weekend. The BC Children’s Hospital Foundation lauched Operation Superhero last year, a three-year campaign to raise $5 million for the construction of an Oncology Inpatient Unit at the new hospital site, and they are involving youth aged 8 to 22 to help in the mission.

These Young Superheros serve as fundraisers and spokepersons for the hospital’s campaign, and in the process, become leaders among their peers and in their community.

But first they need superhero training.

The orientation last weekend encouraged and inspired these future leaders, teaching them practical skills like how to be confident, how to strategize their donation proposals and how to handle rejection. These are important social skills that will last them a lifetime.

It’s inspiring to see young people rising up as leaders. Meeting teenagers, hoodie-d and with oversized earphones hugging their jaws, or young ladies with dyed hair and fashionable make-up, I wasn’t quite expecting their calm confidence in talking about why they want to volunteer for BC Children’s Hosptial and what they expect to achieve.

Meeting these young volunteers prompted me to reflect on my own experience in stepping out, and to think about the question, “What is leadership?”

In some ways, I have gone through a similar journey as the Young Superheros: being a newbie, doing something I’ve never done before and running on the fumes of guts and venture–taking that leap of faith.

I did it when I started leading youth groups. The fun part about working with teenagers is that every meeting is an adventure. Akin to canoeing or hiking in the woods, the path taken at a youth meeting is rarely exactly as you planned, and at any given moment, you may need to adjust and take a different path, depending on what the situation dictates.

From my experience with youth groups, I see leadership this way: leadership is relating to those you lead, understanding them and feeling with them; sharing the mistakes and lessons learned in your own journey; doing your best to live out what you believe to be the best way of doing things; and letting your followers see, discover and decide their own path to go.

I think the secret of leadership is to believe in and enjoy the people you lead. People love to follow and work with someone who believes in them. That belief, in turn, raises and expands the followers’ capabilities, making the followers grow, and thus increasing the fruits of the leader’s leadership.

I once studied the insights of Andy Stanley, senior pastor to three churches and founder of North Point Ministries. In his book, Next Generation Leader, he describes leadership in very practical and applicable terms:

  1. Focus on doing the things you’re good at doing. Don’t try to do everything; instead, delegate the stuff you hate doing and suck at doing. Do your best to invest as much time as possible doing the things that no one else can do as well as you can. Make your team members also focus on their specialties. This spells efficiency for any team.
  2. Be the first to do something that needs to be done. Have the courage to take iniative, to step out before the crowd. Also have the courage to say no to opportunities that do not align with your priorities, and the courage to face the current reality.
  3. Be clear. “Clarity is perceived as leadership.” Communicate clearly the goals and objectives. Be honest when the answer is unknown. In the midst of uncertainty, set a clear vision for the team.

Stanley’s insights are, of course, brilliant and the lessons gleaned from years of leadership experience. If I were to make my humble to-remember list for young leaders, here’s what I would write:

  1. Leverage the strengths of your followers. You may be smarter than your followers in some ways, but they are smarter than you in other ways. Assign tasks and give junior leadership opportunities to your followers that both suit and challenge them. This way, you avoid being overwhelmed with work, and you begin doing what all leaders should do: grow new leaders.
  2. Spend time listening to your followers. Leadership begins with understanding the context of your followers and building trust and connection.
  3. Have co-leaders. Leadership is not a one-man task. At the very least, it’s helpful to have someone answer the door during the group activity or check on the cookies in the oven. Yet much more than that, co-leaders are an essential support and a valuable second point-of-view when debriefing, and discussing and planning the next steps.

Now it’s your turn. What have you learned in your life experience about leadership that you would like to share with future leaders? What key tips and strategies have worked for you? What have you seen other leaders do that you would love to emulate? I’d love it if you would write me some of your leadership pointers in the comments below!

Photo credit: georgeparrilla, Esther Weng

Winnie Lui

Winnie Lui

The wave of Asian immigration in the 1990s brought Winnie to Canada on a little red-mast junk. To fulfill her family’s dream of running a business in Hong Kong and giving the children a Western education, Winnie’s father commuted home to Canada during Christmas and Chinese New Year, and Winnie herself spent her childhood between the two continents and among many different schools and neighbourhoods. Her growing up experience has become a mosaic of cultures, languages, and perspectives.
Winnie Lui
Winnie Lui