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A myth of leadership: ‘young leaders are better’


WE LIVE IN A DAY AND AGE where many people believe that young leadership is better than old. We hear it everywhere now.

People complain that the time for the elder has gone. We think “old timers” have passed their “best by” or “use by” dates and should no longer be on the scene. We need “fresh, young” leaders to take our nation forward.

We are increasingly seeing a good number of newspaper articles and letters calling for young leadership to take this country forward. Some have even made it their calling card.

Use those words “young and fresh” interchangeably with “vibrant, energetic, passionate and straightshooter” and you can create the perfect salad of leadership. Really?

I may be considered a ‘young leader’, but I’m under no illusion that young equates with best.

History has shown that young leadership has given the world some of its worst atrocities and shameful experiences.

In PNG recent events have proven to us that young is not always best, perhaps not in terms of atrocities but certainly down there amongst the worst of events.

I’m reminded of the Biblical story of Rehoboam son of King Solomon.

When he took office Rehoboam was asked by his people to reduce the tax burdens his father had placed on them. He first listened to his elder advisers who told him to listen to the people and ease their tax burdens.

In their words they said, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them...they will always be your servants.” But then he consulted younger men, his peers who had grown up with him, and they told him to increase the people’s burdens manifold.

They said, “Tell the people ‘my little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. He laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions’.”

So he rejected the old men’s advice and took the young. And his legacy is as the king who split Israel in half.

The young men’s answer illustrates a few shortcomings of young leaders (and here I include myself):

(1) Pride—we think we know it all, that we’re better than others, that we don’t need anyone but ourselves and those who think exactly like us. We think our ideas are more in touch with the times and see no need to take heed of our elder’s words;

(2) Security—we are so insecure in our leadership that we want to exercise control extensively. We want people to know who is in charge that we foolishly do anything to secure our fleeting positions.

(3) Unbridled passion—we may have much passion yet it has not stood the test of time nor has it been tempted by access to power. It hasn’t been restrained by a bigger ability to discern what is wrong and right. So that when we land ourselves in a position of unlimited power we drool over it like hungry hyenas, and like fools we fight for it like our lives depend on it;

(4) Lack of wisdom—our thoughts are rushed. We haven’t spent much time contemplating them, nor refining them. Our ideas haven’t been tested; yet we still think they are the best because we’re well-educated or well-informed. Not to mention “in touch with the times”. But we haven’t taken time to seek and to be endowed with sound Godly King Solomon sought when he was young.

We may find another word synonymous with young … “immature”.

I, as a so-called “young leader”, would very much love to see young leaders who have taken time to build their character, their discipline, and who’ve stored for themselves sound wisdom, and whose identity is not dependent on the positions they occupy or could occupy.

More importantly we need young leaders who value their elders and their elders’ opinions. Because like Rehoboam’s elders, they can see beyond the now, they can see real long-term consequences of choices we make in our lives, and in more ways than one they can provide the best counsel and guidance a nation needs.

Like a British politician once said: “There comes a time in every man’s life when he must step aside and give way to an older man.”


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Paul Oates

Ganjiki, the old expression, 'You can't put an old head on young shoulders' was quoted to me many times when I was young.

Now I understand and lament that I didn't know then what I know now. You have cracked the conundrum but will others have the ability to understand?

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks Ganjiki for these wise words.

Last night I listened to Burma's Suu Kyi's address to the combined British Houses of Parliament. What a wonderful, humble woman, whose depth of understanding and wisdom has obviously grown during many years of persecution.

I hope that there are some up-and-coming younger men and women in PNG with leadership gifts who will be encouraged by the wise, older, experienced, PNG leaders.

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