Shaping the next generation of leaders

Posted: 01 December 2021

Positive and successful leadership encompasses a wide range of skills, attitudes, values and characteristics. For each of us some of these come more naturally than others, and the combination is different for every individual. Leadership is not a fixed constant. You evolve your leadership style over time and adapt it to different circumstances.

A core theme for Round Square is the idea that there is more in each of us than we know – we are capable of more than we think. Much of leadership development is about digging deep and discovering this inner capacity. Round Square students are encouraged to a growth mindset, with an understanding that the most successful leaders have confidence in their ability to grow and develop with the needs of the team, organisation or people that they lead.

The educational philosopher Kurt Hahn, on whose theories Round Square was based, believed true leadership to be about being of service to those that you lead. To this day, servant Leadership is perhaps the most fundamental cornerstone of the Round Square philosophy. Through a wide variety of practical, hands-on programmes and activities, students in Round Square schools learn to lead teams by listening to, respecting, co-ordinating and acting on the consensus of their peers.

This approach to a democratic and open style of leadership is also strongly evident in Round Square’s own structures and practices. Round Square schools are encouraged to actively engage students in running the school, and a range of in-school activities and programmes are led by the RS Student Committee. At a global level, it is the students that organise the Round Square International Conference, and the conference workshops are also led and facilitated by students.

One example of an opportunity for RS students to gain hands-on leadership experience is through participating in a RS International Service Project. During the course of a RSIS project, each participating student spends time working in multicultural teams with fellow students from around the world and members of the local community. It is an immersive leadership development opportunity through which they learn as much about leadership from being part of a team as they do from leading one.

“I think that the students can learn from each other’s strengths and learn how to work in community, to achieve a common goal,” says Rachel Cazabon a teacher at Lakefield College School in Canada, “It is always nice to see some students, who feel they are already good leaders, have to take a step back and support their fellow team members in their leadership development.”

As Cristina Angel Possea, student from Colegio Anglo Colombiano in Columbia explains: “I think Round Square teaches you about leadership in a way that you need to appreciate and understand other people’s ideas in life as much as they need to respect your own ideas.”

In addition to working within a team, each student has multiple opportunities to lead them, developing and rehearsing international and intercultural leadership skills through practical experience.

As Nicola Marriott from Glenlyon Norfolk School in Canada explains: “Throughout the project there were opportunities to lead, whether or not I had been selected as the leader of that day. There were always little projects, mainly at the building site but also at the camp and in Kathmandu, where I could step in to lead a group of students and help to accomplish the task by sharing my skills.”

The lessons that come from this immersive, hands-on style of learning are the sort of perspective-shifting life-lessons that simply cannot be gleaned from theoretical study. Sometimes these are simple, practical, but essential lessons: “It made me realise that I need to speak slower and clearer,” says John Mbako from St George’s Diocesan School in Namibia “You need to give a direct message and make sure everybody understands.”

At other times the learning point is less tangible, but no less fundamental, for example “I realised how mentally tough it is to be a leader” says Keyley Bitzas from Ivanhoe Grammar School in Australia.

Participation in a RSIS project can be a great exercise in developing leadership skills in less-confident students, says Priya Barai, Geography Teacher at Box Hill School in England: “Some children, that I would never necessarily have thought would be strong leaders, having taken part in service projects come back so inspired that they actually go on to lead other initiatives.”

It can also be a great experience for students that have already been identified as having strong potential to step up to leadership positions within the school, providing opportunities to develop key student leaders in their final year.

Rufaro Sithole, now a student at Brown University, had just such an experience: “Round Square really emphasises leadership and service, and I think that really helped me to be an effective Head Girl,” she says: “Besides developing my understanding of servant leadership, I think Round Square helped me to make personal connections; and you need to be able to do that as a leader – you need to connect with the people you are trying to lead – and Round Square helped me to develop those skills.”

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