Liberian Youth Define Leadership Qualities

Since our return from Liberia in September, we have been reviewing the data we gathered from the young men and women who participated in our two-day workshop. One of the documents that our young participants completed was a pre-workshop information form. This form listed ten questions focusing on problem solving, helping others, character building and much more. The purpose of this form was to better understand these young mindsets before they were challenged by the two-day creative and innovative thinking workshop.

One of the questions asked on this form was “what are three qualities you find important in a leader?” When reviewing these forms a few days before the workshop, we were quite impressed by their responses. Clearly, they can visualize what makes a good leader despite being confronted examples of corrupt leadership. So, it seems fitting that their thoughtful effort be shared with a greater audience.

How does one best convey what these young Liberian men and women named are important leadership attributes? Well, it was not going to be easy, because there were 54 respondents and some of the qualities were mentioned more than once. Of course the obvious option would be to publish a simple list that would start with the most important trait at the top. However, it would do little to symbolize what they saw as the ideal leader.

So, the next option was to illustrate their ideas in what is known as a word cloud (i.e. tag cloud) as shown below.

 This graphic has many layers to its design. The leadership qualities that were mentioned more than once were carefully laid out within the national borders of Liberia. The green background with the brown edging represents Liberia’s lush rain forest and fertile ground, which is ready to be planted with the purposeful seeds of these emerging leaders. The color and size of each word represents the number of times a particular quality was mentioned.

Here are the most commonly named qualities:

  1. Patient: selected 9 times
  2. Respectful: selected 7 times
  3. Innovative and Visionary: selected 6 times each
  4. Committed, Compassionate, Good Listener, Humble & Open: selected 5 times each  
  5. Green qualities: selected 4 times each
  6. Yellow qualities: selected 3 times each
  7. Red qualities: selected 2 times each

This word cloud was not able to accommodate all the qualities that were chosen. Therefore, the illustration below shows the “The Honorable Mentions” for the leadership traits that were only selected once.

Both visuals will be included in our workshop next October when we return to Liberia. As we prepare for next year, we want to continue to find creative and thoughtful ways to capture what these young people expressed before, during and after the workshop. There is much to be gained from their insights and perspectives about the world. Let’s face it…our young men and women around the world are the next leaders in business, government, academia and so forth. This is why we value their input and inspire them to become the next great leaders of the 21st century.

Staying Curious

When we tap into our curious spirit, we are more likely to expand our knowledge base and adapt our skill set to meet the demands of this ever changing world. Granted, most people are change-averse, but it is one of the two guarantees in life–the other being death. We must learn to let go of a past that no longer serves us and learn to embrace a life that is a continuous exploration into the unknown. Basically, when we challenge ourselves to learn or do something new, we are tapping into a new realm of possibilities.

This requires a change in how we think and see the world. One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This statement holds many truths, from the individual to the national level. We often limit our possibilities, because we have set imaginary constraints on our thoughts. Too often our thinking gets stuck in the mud like this truck. 

This picture was taken on my trip to Lofa in December 2007, a northern county of Liberia bordering Sierra Leone and Guinea. This dirt road recently experienced a great deal of rain making it difficult for this truck to pass through,

What is exciting about changing our thoughts is that there is now technology that can show us what is happening to our nerve cells in our brains. With the development of better brain scans, scientists can examine how a novel idea is being formed in our neo-cortex (front part of the brain) through the learning process. Then it can show through time-lapse video how our brain can rewire itself when a new habit is being developed (click here)[1]. Being able to see what our brains can do when we change our thinking is amazing. Also, this ability can happen at any age…so yes an old dog can learn a new trick. 

The curiosity to learn or do something new takes an open mind. I like to look at the world with the eyes of two year old. It was during this time of our life that we were discovering a larger world and were eager to try everything. If we can harness this fearless enthusiasm again as adults, we can plug into our creative and innovative centers in the brain. The reality is if we want to change how we see the world, we need to develop creative and innovate thinking that is not hindered by fear of failing or doubt of our abilities. 

The idea of being curious is important to our ongoing personal and professional development. As we continue to learn, we continue to grow. This is why we need to explore and experience the greater world around us, because it expands our opportunities. I will close this post with a great quote from Audrey Hepburn, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”

Video: Look What Happens in Your Brain When You Change Your Mind. Dr. Joe Despenza