Lessons in leadership from young people

Time to follow Charley Hull's lead!
Time to follow Charley Hull’s lead!

Over this weekend I have been glued to the TV watching the coverage of the Solheim Cup  – the equivalent to the Ryder Cup but for women’s golf. I often watch television coverage of men’s golf but this is the first time I have paid attention to the women’s game and I am hooked.  I would like to say it inspired me to get out there and do something about my own game  – but that would be a lie!

Amongst all of the stories of great play, chances taken, determination and camaraderie one aspect grabbed more headlines than most. One of the players who played superbly is  Charley Hull – and she is 17 years old.

Now Charley is clearly a naturally gifted player and it is great to watch her – but as the Solheim Cup is a team competition it was more than just playing her game. She was courteous to other players, understated in celebrating her own success and star-truck like any other fan which was demonstrated when she asked the US player she had just defeated – Paula Creamer – to sign a ball ” for a friend”.

How does someone so young know how to behave  and stay focused in such a high tension atmosphere? I am sure sports psychologists the world over will be looking into that right now!

Some of it is surely that Charley had less “baggage” than others. She did what she did instinctively and learned from each stage  – and shot. As it was all broadcast live on TV her every move was under scrutiny by the cameras. It looked like she was enjoying herself.  It just so happened that hers was the first game to finish on the final day as she beat her opponent so resoundingly so she led the way to the victory.

I have had the privilege of working with a lot of young people in schools over the years and have often been struck by the leadership shown. Every so often I come across articles about whether leadership is something you are born with or if it can be taught. Going by my experience,  more often than not, when some leadership is needed someone will step into take that lead.

A story I often tell – because it had such a profound effect on me- is about a group of 15/16 year olds I was working with on a project where they had been asked to act as consultants on a real business issue for a large organisation.  As part of the preparation for that they had been introduced to Belbin’s Team Roles  and Tuckman’s  research on team development. So when their own team became fractured and dysfunctional they took action by having a vote on who should be the “boss”. In the short time I had been working with them I had seen one young woman stand out  and in fact the vote mainly went her way. It was a close run thing though and  the first thing she did was to ask the young man who came second to be her “second in command”. They worked really well together balancing each other up and this one action brought together the bulk of the team to start working effectively together. I asked her why she had done what she did and she said that “it just felt right”.

In another – slightly younger – group they had gone through a similar vote.  At the end of the project as we were celebrating their success he asked the team members for feedback.  All but one of them said that they had liked the way he worked. The lone dissenter voice came from a guy who had preferred the style of the leader’s deputy. It was fascinating to see how the leader – and the group – responded. He accepted this comment graciously, said that he could see why that was and commented on how much he had learned by working with the team and how he hoped he would use it in future.

I found the The Harvard Business Review post  – Act Like a Leader Before You Are One  – interesting. It is written in an organisational context and is intended to show how to rise up the corporate ladder – so for that reason it is very useful. But it also highlighted for me how often leadership is something that is often recognised when someone has the “title” .

Charley Hull and the 2 young leaders I mentioned above showed leadership regardless of who was in charge.

So much to be learned from that!