The Character Movement


Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

By Joe Cavanaugh

This past December, Youth Frontiers held its sixth-annual Ethical Leadership Luncheon. More than 500 business, education and community leaders from the Twin Cities area joined us for a thoughtful dialogue on ethical leadership practices and the importance of investing in leadership and character development for the next generation.

Youth Frontiers helps schools build positive communities by challenging kids to embrace character and have the courage to be ethical and moral leaders. Our work at YF is about creating a civil culture within the walls of a school so students can learn how to lead in the broader world.

It is said that school hallways are a training ground for creating a civil society. At YF, we understand that the young people in our classrooms today will be our leaders tomorrow. Schools have got to be more than just intellectual assembly lines. We need to make sure students succeed – not only in math and science, but in morality and civility as well.

There is an old story that depicts two dogs fighting inside each of us for control of our destiny – one is evil and the other is good. Which dog will win? The dog you feed. As adults, we need to direct the younger generation down the right path. We need to highlight and uphold individuals who exemplify what it means to lead with ethics and integrity. We need to be role models.

At our Ethical Leadership Luncheon, David MacLennan, president and CEO of Cargill, shared how his company’s guiding values have been paramount to their success over the last 150 years. Today, they are the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue. They continue to find success because their customers have great trust in them. As MacLennan put it: “Our word is our bond.”

David MacLennan is one of the most honest, humble and well-respected leaders in the Twin Cities. And he isn’t alone. There are leaders like David MacLennan in all of our communities – leaders who are committed to cultivating climates of integrity and trust. It wasn’t that long ago that a company called Enron modeled a different example. And the truth of the matter is that there are still two divergent paths for future leaders to take. We need to help today’s young people follow leaders like MacLennan down the right path.

Youth Frontiers’ messages about courage, respect, kindness and responsibility inspire students to lead lives of character. We encourage students to be better. And we put a special emphasis on leadership by utilizing high school students as small-group leaders for our Kindness, Courage and Respect retreats. We want to make tomorrow’s world better, so we’re investing in the next generation of leaders. If we teach young people how to live with character and lead with integrity, they will become the the ethical leaders our world desperately needs.

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