How to Educate Future Leaders

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Patrick Awuah speaks about the necessity of educating future generations of leaders, rooted in his own experience growing up in Ghana: “Every society must be very intentional about how it trains its leaders, and Ghana was not paying enough attention.”

After earning his education at a liberal arts college in the U.S. and working for Microsoft, Awuah returned to Ghana and identified three problems with society: “corruption, weak institutions, and the people who run them—the leaders.”

When he went on to examine Ghana’s education system, he found three deeper problems: rote learning rather than critical thinking, insufficient emphasis on ethics, and a sense of entitlement rather than responsibility among college graduates.

What the system needed, he realized, was better leadership education.

Through his own education Awuah gained “the ability to confront problems, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems.” The key to strong leadership is in designing those solutions: “The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.”

Empowering not only because of the personal value it provides but also because of the societal value: “The real privilege of leadership is to serve humanity.” With that, here are five ways to start educating leaders for a better future.

1. Teach everyone to create.

It’s a shame we still divide ourselves into personality groups like creative or non-creative. Not only do we all have creative capacities, but it’s actually crucial for society that we think of ourselves this way. “Creative” doesn’t mean being good with arts and crafts; it means being good at making new things happen and engineering change. Humans are an inherently creative species.

2. Cultivate synergistic motivation.

Synergy is when your personal purpose aligns with your transcendental purpose. In simpler terms, it’s when the work you do no longer feels like “work” because it’s directly fulfilling to you on a personal level. Strong leaders are often motivated to lead because they’ve tapped into this synergy.

3. Develop communication skills.

“The resilient, creative leader is one who has immersed herself in words, who is comfortable with complex language and who has an abiding sense of the power of narrative,” writes Henry Doss for Forbes. Your ability to lead others toward your vision is only as good as your ability to communicate that vision.

4. Encourage risk and “failure.”

Set up students to expect, not dread, failure. If they’re failing, they’re doing it right. The important thing is to build the resilience to dust themselves off and get back in the arena, using the knowledge they gained from their mistakes.

5. Emphasize adaptability.

Students must learn to be not only resilient in the face of challenges but also adaptable in the face of change. We live in a world with an accelerating rate of change, and it’s essential to be able to ride the wave.

Awuah went on to found Ashesi University, a liberal arts college in Ghana that educates future generations of leaders by emphasising ethics and entrepreneurship. Its first class of students graduated in 2006.


Saga Briggs is an author at InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or read more of her writing here.

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