I recently attended an event where international speaker Ravi Zacharias relayed a conversation he’d had about leadership. He was in Aman, Jordan where he was invited to meet Prince Ra’ad, last heir to the throne in Iraq and cousin of the former King Hussein of Jordan. As they met at the Palatial Grounds he asked, simply to make conversation, “What is the greatest need of the hour?”
The Prince replied quickly and decisively: “Leadership and youth.” He continued, “How we lead is going to train our young people in the years to come. And we better lead with nobility, and dignity, and integrity or the next generation will bring havoc and destruction.”
The Prince’s answer has much to offer. Firstly, his simple three-word response, “leadership and youth”, contains a valuable insight that no one should diminish. Whether we examine our local surroundings or look beyond our borders, current leadership and future leadership are intimately connected. It may be easy to focus on the problems and challenges of today and ignore the implications for future generations, but the most powerful leadership must always have succession in mind. What are we leaving to those that follow after us?
And there is a second insight that is perhaps equally as important. The manner in which current generations lead forms and teaches future generations, and the Prince effectively states that leading with virtue – nobility, dignity, and integrity – is essential. Thus current leaders have a tremendous responsibility to lead in a manner that prepares, equips, and empowers virtuous leaders of the future.
It’s interesting that he elaborates not on the importance of the techniques of leadership – strategic planning, change management, effective meetings, etc., – but rather the Prince points to leadership formation which is steeped in character and virtue. One can be sure that he is not ignorant of the value of the technical elements of leadership but when it comes down to matters of first importance, character and virtue are the foundation.
It reminds me of something that Canadian Governor General Georges Vanier once said: “Tell me the character of a nation’s young people, and I will tell you the future of the nation.” This statement could be applied to many settings. Tell me the character of a company’s junior staff, and I will tell you the future of the company. Tell me the character of a family’s children, and I will tell you the future of that family. And certainly, when we look at our world and our nations we see that the greatest need of the hour is the formation of character and virtue in the lives of our future leaders.
Pope Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” In order to truly leave a legacy of leadership, effective and transformative leaders need to teach character and virtue to future generations by modelling these themselves.