Memo to youth: Good leadership demands more than just your youthfulness


By Ronald Austin Jr

AN unfortunate attitudinal approach to leadership is infecting the mindset of many youth leaders and senior leaders in this country. For all intents and purposes of this documentation, this leadership is considered to be between the ages of 18-40. There is the belief that once you still have your hair, your muscles, your stiff skin, your mobility and all the physiology associated with an early age, you are fit to lead or become the president.

Even middle-aged individuals with red-carpet fever are hiding their grey, exercising profusely, being facetious and disingenuous about their age, and are boldly staking an unmeritorious claim to youth. I suspect this regrettable psyche has become current and pronounced, because estimates suggest that the largest voting block at Guyana’s next elections will be millennials.

Based on calculations from the 2012 Census released in 2016, the iGeneration could represent up to 170,000 voters in the 2020 elections. It is for this reason that political parties and individuals seem to be of the mistaken view that all you need to do is show youthful faces and you have offered the electorate good leadership choices. This naïve view flies in the face of established standards for good leadership. Youthfulness is never an automatic qualification for good leadership.

Youth brings fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a different approach, this is an undeniable fact. However, what can also come along with this freshness are innovative ideas to steal or different approaches to the abuse of power. Louis XVI of France became the King of France at age 38, he brought the youthful abuse of power and juvenile, unprecedented corruption. Louis XVI took France to social, political and economic ruin.

Added to this, I hereby invoke the bad memory of Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, who inherited the presidency from his father in 1971 at age 19. He has left a legacy of being the most repressive and most cruel leader in the Western Hemisphere; and he embezzled US$300 to US $800 million of the people’s money over 15 years, earning him an ignoble place in the Pantheon of the world’s most corrupt leaders. Further, it is an opportune time to recall the fact that Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader, acquired power at age 27 and has emerged as one of the world’s most brutal dictators. Boyish or girlish leadership does not translate into favourable leadership. This becomes very urgent when one considers Benjamin Disraeli’s eloquent submission, ‘the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity.’

Bad leadership transcends age. Discontent with your resources, troubling the people’s money, a lack of integrity, lack of vision and a complete lack of care for the masses can be sad aspects of leadership at any age. Youth is not immune from this. It is for this reason that a full-of-life state of being cannot be your only qualification to be in authority. While you may have the energy, it can be negative energy which can be used intensely to do long-lasting damage to a country. In service of this concern, senior leaders must disabuse themselves of this notion of being bombastic over the youth composition of their teams. If those teams possess young members who have been fingered in scandalous affairs and wanton corruption, it is a negative example and message to send. You are basically suggesting that you may do as you please, once you are young, you are fit to be at the helm. It is an assault and an imposition on the intelligence of the people. Characteristics such as empathy, integrity, dedication, and accountability, ought to be paramount considerations when seeking to command at any time in one’s existence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow astutely remarked, ‘youth comes but once in a lifetime.’ Acceptance of this truism would leave any normal mind with no choice but to concede that it is folly to have only youth on your side when seeking supremacy over the affairs of humans. In the absence of the aforementioned qualities, what happens when Mr. Longfellow’s caution takes effect? What will you uphold as your claim to ascendancy over others when the inescapable biological clock takes over? Will you say, please ignore my lack of integrity and empathy? Will you proclaim that you are no longer a youth, but you feel youthful inside? Will you suggest that the masses keep a youthful photo of you next to their beds? It is folly to stand solely on this fleeting foundation in the context of demanding to be in charge.