Raising Our Youth as Leaders for Today

Autumn Swain   •  October 17, 2023 

Take your glasses off for a minute. No, not your actual glasses. I mean those “insular lobe” glasses. This part of the brain is responsible for your perception of your environment. These “lenses” are how you specifically view the world, how you experience your neighborhood, your beliefs, and how you choose to raise your children. Your perspective is so valuable, but so is the perspective of your neighbors.

In order to become a more empathetic person we must be able to put aside our point of view to see things from another person’s vantage. Your point of view will still be there, but by taking off your glasses for a moment it will allow you to see from another person’s perspective more clearly without anything else getting in the way.

Imagine helping our children see the world through a variety of lenses from a young age. What value would this add to the world? This would require us parents and adults to embrace this vision as well. If the paradigm through which Mom or Dad is parenting is through a single perspective (i.e., the sky is always blue), then the child’s paradigm of the world will be limited (i.e., what about when the sky is pink and purple or dark gray?).

Empathy is one of many characteristics I highlight in my book, The Playground Leader: Life Changing ABC’s for the Whole Family. The conviction to write this book began before I was even a parent myself.

In my early twenties, working with a community development organization in a growing mid-sized city (Madison, WI), part of our mission was to decrease the “achievement gap” in public education. I knew one thing for certain, the solution wasn’t just about academics. These young people are holistic beings therefore the solution required a holistic approach.

I started after school tutoring programs, mentoring initiatives, college prep groups, but in my spirit I knew that for these young people to flourish we needed to look at all aspects of their lives and build their character. We needed to set expectations for them that they were leaders, and grow their beliefs that they had value to add to this world right now.

Working in spaces with youth, I was always listening to language stating things like “future leaders” or “leaders for tomorrow.” While this is true, the reality that I feel these young people also need to hear is that they are leaders for today, too — not just tomorrow.

One third of our global population is under 20 years old. Imagine the impact that having our youth engaged as leaders for today would have collectively on our society. Imagine the significant increase in innovation, collaboration, and overall well-being there would be if there was an intentional focus on holistic character and leadership development in our youth. Consider how much more hope this brings to facing the challenges in our society when we have just exponentially increased the number of leaders who can be a part of the solutions to these challenges.

When asked what my inspiration was for turning this conviction into a book, I have two answers.

The inward facing answer is that I have always been convicted by the importance in how we live our lives. I found that what rooted my personal pursuits and fulfillment was a targeted focus on not just what I do, but how I show up in this world. I truly believe that what makes up our lives as human beings (our mind, body, emotions, social connections, spirituality) is all integrated, so a focus on being well is integral to having a life well-lived.

The outward facing answer started with my experiences in serving the beautiful people in our world on the margins. I share briefly in my book about my experience working with youth and their families, but there are a lot of experiences I have had with people living with homelessness, formerly incarcerated individuals, and other marginalized populations that inspired this book as well. I have been witness to many “solutions” and the most effective, in my opinion, have been the more holistic collaborative approaches for impact.

Then I had kids of my own and knew what I wanted so badly for my own children — for them to be healthy and whole individuals, to thrive in their communities as leaders, and to grow in key characteristics that are so important for a life well-lived. So I figured if I could get some ideas into the hands of those adults engaged with our young people, this book could have an impact that will continue to reverberate into more and more communities.

The Playground Leader isn’t just for parents who want to see their children flourish now as leaders in their homes, at school and in the world. It’s for all of us, because in some way, we all have influence over other people in our lives. This could be a young professional given a promotion and now is in charge of a larger team. Or it could be a teacher over a classroom, or a coach in charge of a basketball or debate team.

This book equips all teams with tools for the development of key leadership qualities and character development, bringing so much hope, not just for the future, but for today. This hope is not just for our young people, but if we all embrace a more holistic approach to leadership, we will all be better for it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge many of our realities, but I promise I will follow that up with a dose of hope. 

The demands of work, family, community, and other obligations are taking its toll on today’s leaders. People are burning out, feeling fatigued, lacking inspiration and vitality. They are overwhelmed, stuck and tired, often lacking the support, rhythms, and tools to have abundant well-being in their lives.

What I have found working in all kinds of cross-cultural and cross-sector spaces is that people want to be well, but are lacking a sustainable plan to do so.

One of the most important questions a leader can then ask him- or herself is how do you make your efforts sustainable?

Develop a mindset of rhythmic living. Instead of trying to do everything at once, discern where the best place is for you to start and make it part of your daily rhythms. Rhythms are a way to integrate valuable habits so they stick around even when life shifts and requires you to pivot in some way. Rhythms can sustain themselves through the natural, inevitable ebbs and flows of life.

So my hope for this book is to equip leaders who then turn around and invest in others. I want to give you, the reader, a clear starting point towards helping your children to grow up to be everything they were meant to be. And remember, The Playground Leader will not only equip and transform our young people, but it will leave its mark on you, too. When we show up our best, our children will be better for it!

Dr. Autumn Swain (IG) is a Leadership and Wellness Consultant, life coach, author, and mother. She is the founder and CEO of The Aligned Leader, which has a mission to increase capacity and fulfillment through holistic alignment for community leaders, resulting in greater personal well-being and progress toward team, organizational, and community well-being. Her new book, The Playground Leader, is hot off the press! Get your copy now.