It Takes a Village to Raise a Leader

We stumbled across the connection between resiliency and leadership in the kind of serendipitous way that leaves you shaking your head. A friend was concerned about the students who were “slipping through the cracks” at high school. As he often said, they were not at risk of burning down the school, but they were definitely at risk of not graduating. Many of these students had been knocked around one too many times and were, understandably, having trouble getting back up again. We brought them for a three-day retreat to the Leadership Studio at Muskoka Woods and decided to engage them in the same kind of leadership experiences we would offer prefect students from high end private schools – or our executive clients, for that matter.

To our great surprise, the students not only excelled at the exercises – often drawing many profound learnings during conversations that followed the experiences – but they also demonstrated impressive growth in positive mindsets and behaviours long term.

Wanting to know what we had accidentally stumbled upon, we did some research and discovered that:

Students can and do increase their leadership skills … and that increases in leadership development in turn enhance the self-efficacy, civic engagement, character development, academic performance, and personal development of students.[1]

This makes sense when you think about it. When we begin to think of ourselves as someone with the ability to change – not only ourselves, but the world around us – and learn some strategies for doing so, things change.

Along the way we discovered other key factors:

  1. There are significant cultural, gender, age and personal differences to the way people perceive and practice leadership. Understanding these differences and providing diverse perspectives and approaches is critical to maximizing the impact. Cookie cutter approaches can have the opposite effect – leaving people who don’t fit that mould feeling less empowered, rather than more.
  2. Experiential leadership development is the gold standard of training that leads to change.
  3. It takes a village to raise a leader. While some people are strong enough to go it alone, the vast majority of us do much better when surrounded by a supportive community.


[1] Benson & Saito, 2001; Fertman & Van Linden, 1999; Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen, 2005; Scales & Leffort, 1999;Sire, Ma & Gambone, 1998; Van Linden & Fertman, 1988. As quoted in The National Study on Developing Leadership Capacity in College Students.