Catalyst Leaders

Matthew Wilde, 25, Manchester

0728_Young Leaders_0832_MATT.jpg

I don't think the current idea of a leader is functioning in the 21st century. Do you?

Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a leader? It’s interesting because no matter where I go and I ask that question to no-one steps forward. That is because in society we have defined leadership as something we’ll never attain. We’ll never hold the title. We’ve made leadership about changing the world which I believe is the complete opposite of what leadership really is about.

We need to think differently about leadership because if we don’t the world will continue to serve the elite. Schools will continue to stifle innovation and creativity. Politics will remain unaccessible. Arts and culture will remain undemocratic. Technological developments will remain driven by profit and we will not unlock our true potential.

The title ‘leader’ has been given a certain expectation, even the dictionary defines a leader as a person commands a group, organisation, or country. I mean, come on. How does it make you feel when you’re not given a say? Do you regard the people who command you as good leaders? I assume you’d choose a number of other words to describe them instead.

I’ve seen the way that some people limit themselves. They can’t think outside the box and don’t have the to capacity to think creatively. Untapped potential is unlocked ability, hidden wisdom and unsung possibility. Our friends, family, colleagues and the world deserve to hear your voice.

We’ve made such a big deal of extraordinary leadership, that we’ll never be able to amount to such high expectations. We’ve spent too much time admiring the amazing work people do, like celebrities and other public figures, that we don’t spend enough time celebrating what each and every one of us can achieve. Everyone has the ability to be extraordinary, especially young people, because we do not know what isn’t possible. We are idealistic - we don’t have a perception of what can’t be done and we haven’t become jaded with life’s challenges.

In today's society young people feel disempowered. Why? Adults make decisions about all aspects of our lives and we aren’t given the chance to say how we feel and influence decisions, even at pivotal points. Did you know that when it comes to choosing what subjects to take at school, many students are unable to choose the subjects they want, such as music, and are being driven down a path that will affect them for the rest of their lives. How is this allowed?

Have you heard of Jack Andraka? He’s revolutionised science by developing an early detection test for pancreatic cancer. The result? A test that costs 3 cents, is 168 times faster, and is over 400 times more sensitive than our current standard for pancreatic cancer detection. All before his 16th birthday.

And how about Brittany McMillan? She was active on Tumblr when she found posts about a series of LGBTQ teen suicides. This inspired her to take action by asking people to wear purple, the colour of spirit, and to come together to stand up to bullying and support LGBTQ youth through an annual event called “Spirit Day”. And you know since then she’s influenced corporates, media organisations, celebrities, sports teams and non-profits all around the world.  All of this before her 20th birthday.

To me, these people stand out as extraordinary leaders. They simply identified the problems worth solving, found the resources needed to develop solutions. And it was their teenage optimism created opportunities for themselves to make a positive impact. All of these examples point to the fact that never before have young people had this much power, positioning and potential to influence change.

How different could the world be if we redefined what we thought leadership was all about?

Not all of us will change the world. And to be honest, I don’t think the majority of us even want that responsibility. But we all possess the power to:

1. Harness our fully connected world.
2. Be driven by our values and what we stand for.
3. Collaborate with anybody, anywhere at anytime.

We live in a world where information used to be powered through classrooms and training, but now that same level of knowledge has become instantly available to anyone with an interest in any given subject. Young people especially have never known a world without this on demand access and as a result have always been able to recognise, filter through and realise anything that we are really passionate about.

This demonstrates to us the beautiful result of our hyper-connected world which allows us to achieve things that we thought were previously unimaginable.

So next time you think about leadership forget about all of those people who commanded you to follow their direction instead of your own, and embrace your potential to lead through your values, inspire others, and collaborate. If we manage to do this, we will innovate and create a world that is more compassionate, is more authentic and responsive to the needs of the next generation.

We have a choice but are we ready to make it?

Matthew is a member of our Young Leaders programme. The Almeida Young Leaders is a scheme giving young people with something vital to say the tools and platform to do so. Each young leader has been mentored by a writer and director to develop their ideas, structuring a speech and skills in public speaking.