This week in Dublin the One Young World summit takes place gathering together leaders from across the globe. They’ll be addressed by Kofi Annan, former Irish President Mary Robinson and other luminaries. Over a thousand people will be in attendance representing many different nations, all with one thing in common: they’re aged 18-30. I could have just about squeaked in but I didn’t get my application in on time. Next year I’ll be too old, while Malala will then be just old enough.
And that’s what’s slightly depressing. I’m passed it. When I turned 30 earlier this year I had none of the pangs of ageing many people associate with crossing a significant birthday off the calendar. I haven’t tried to reignite the glory days of my youth by pushing my body into oblivion through partying the nights away, and that’s perhaps only partly because the glory days of my youth involved very few nights of partying. But I do feel a slight sense of relief when I see young adult’s events or conferences advertised for people up to 35, or even 40.
I am reassured that I’ve not missed my chance to make it. Do something. Leave my mark. And for some reason I want to do that now. The delegates at the One Young World conference have to show what they have achieved and it is intentionally an elite gathering to bring together those who have already achieved a lot, to help them help each other achieve more.
Reflecting on this conference and my non-attendance led to four thoughts:
- Age doesn’t matter. Ironically for a conference defined by its age bracket, those who are attending have probably realised that age does not matter or restrict the leadership they can provide. They have stood up and taken responsibility while many of their contemporaries were willing to wait for something to happen. Age doesn’t stop us from taking responsibility.
- Networks matter. I like that the explicit focus is on bringing leaders together to form networks. Michael Lindsay in his book View from the Top looks at the amplifier effect of bringing leaders together in networks, especially in networks that cut across sectors and specialisms.
- Circumstances don’t define our ability to exercise leadership. The leaders gathered in Dublin come from across the world – from Afghanistan to the United States, from war-torn countries to advanced, post-industrial economies. Some will have had the best education that money can buy and some will have fled their homes to avoid disaster. The global nature of the conference reflects that while opportunities for leadership can be fostered, leadership cannot be forced, it operates and is needed in remarkable, unexpected places.
- Recognition isn’t validation. For the thousand attending across the Irish Sea it might be easy to see the recognition that goes along with their presence at an elite gathering as validation of their achievement. It’s nice to be noticed; when someone thanks you for what you’ve done, complements your hard work, even when you’re an introvert like me you appreciate it though are unsure how to handle it. But it isn’t validation of worth. There will be countless brilliant leader not there, and if the purpose in leading something was to get to attend such a gathering the point has been colossally missed.
Reflecting on being too old to be young will not help me – I’m more likely to get onto next year’s Great British Bake Off than make the journey to Thailand for the 2015 One Young World conference. What I will remember is that leadership matters. When people take on responsibility and lead, that’s when things change. It’s why I’m passionate about helping Christians become public leaders, why I want to see churches invest in leaders, train them, support them, draw them together and release them to serve God and their communities, and be a voice for good. It’s why I want to see Public Leadership become part of the mission of the Church.
(Image: Guy Denning via Flickr. Malala graffiti from Shoreditch High Street, London)