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Student leadership summit offers valuable life lessons

What’s the definition of leadership? If you guessed “getting people to follow you,” you’re forgiven. After all, that’s what 62 new head stewards, prefects and Lang Scholars might well have said before attending the second annual UCC Youth Leadership and Character Forum at McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm, on April 28.

Thanks to a generous donation to step up UCC’s character development initiatives, the boys were treated to a daylong, executive calibre retreat to develop character strength and moral courage. (The goal is to roll such initiatives to benefit students more broadly in the future.) UCC also thanks McKinsey consultants Kate Subak and Bruce Simpson for their tireless support and financial support, respectively, for this initiative.

The overarching goal is to teach boys that true leadership means acting in a way that serves and inspires everyone, not just getting others to do your bidding, said McKinsey consultant Bruce Simpson. He gave a keynote speech about the difference between recklessness and the calculated risk that opens the door to serious success. Incidentally, his mom was the first woman to cross Greenland by ski, he still takes his family for major kayaking adventures there and, as a younger man, trekked across China.

In addition to knowing how to take smart risks, leaders have other tools at hand. A series of morning breakout sessions illuminated character strengths such as resilience, curiosity, self-control and gratitude.

“The secret to resilience is to have a ‘hidden backpack’” said Mary Gauthier, executive director of the Wernham West Centre for Learning. “That backpack means having at least one caring person to turn to during tough times.” She solicited stories of resilience from students. One told of a kid who cried at the start of every swimming lesson until, finally, he got into the pool in the last session. In another session on gratitude, the boys wrote thank you notes, surely a classic device in the lifelong toolbox for exhibiting good character.

The boys then discussed and received the results of their personal profile, the famed Myers Briggs Type Indicator. It offers insight on how we prefer to take in information and make decisions. Fittingly for a group of leaders in training, the introverts to extrovert ratio was 63 to 37, while in the general population it was 49 to 51.

One of the day’s highlights was a visit from Old Boy Chris Studer ’12, executive director of Get Real. In his discussion of moral courage, he spoke of his organization’s work to banish homophobic language and attitudes. In a touching and popular viral video called “Notes to my Grade 7 Self,” students talk about how they were bullies or bullied, and how they’ve changed.

“Our goal is to create an atmosphere that fosters moral courage, whether it’s offering a glass of water to someone who’s drunk at a party or shifting an entire office culture where everyone says ‘that’s so gay” as if it’s second nature.”

In a breakout session following his talk, students revealed their own instances of moral courage. Interestingly,one response that received the most recognition from peers was a student who confessed it took major courage to ask a girl out by phone rather than text.

Indeed, whether it’s confronting homophobia and other big picture issues, or asking a girl out, the conference’s lessons have broad application. Watch for a video of the conference to be posted on our Facebook page later this week.

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