Youth Engagement Toolkit

Benefits of Youth Leadership

What do the youth get out of participating in youth leadership and engagement programs?

What is Leadership?

Five areas of competency that distinguish leaders and shape youth leadership development efforts:

  1. Communication- public speaking/writing, and engaging the participation of others
  2. Teamwork- respecting others, performing roles of both leader and follower, building on strengths, and commitment to free group input and expression
  3. Personal Identity - understanding the relationship between oneself and the community, pride in being a member of a larger group, awareness of areas for self-improvement, taking responsibility for one's actions and the resulting consequences
  4. Professionalism-demonstrating tactfulness, understanding protocols, appropriate dress and action given appraisal of context, delivering quality work, positively presenting oneself to others
  5. Project Management-setting goals/developing action steps, meeting facilitation, reflection, distinguishing between one's interests and community needs

Youth need opportunities to both learn about and practice leadership, in meaningful and authentic ways.

Why is it important for young people to develop leadership?

The development of leadership contributes greatly to the positive development of young people and their communities.

  • Leadership skills, such as goal-setting, problem-solving and sound decision-making, are not just necessary for leaders - these skills are needed for success in today's world (MacNeil 2000).
  • Helping young people develop leadership competencies makes them better able to solve community problems and enhances their civic participation (O'Brien & Kohlmeier, 2003).
  • Young leaders also demonstrate higher career aspirations, increased self-esteem, and improved high school completion rates (Bloomberg, Ganey, Alba, Quintero, & Alcantara, 2003).
  • By supporting and engaging young leaders, adults, organizations and communities experience direct benefits, through stronger connections to other young people in the community (Zeldin, McDaniel, Topitzes, & Lorens, 2001).
  • They have a greater understanding of the problems facing other youth, and fresh perspectives for how to address these problems (Des Marais, Yang, & Farzanehkia, 2000; Zeldin, McDaniel, Topitzes, & Lorens, 2001; McGillicuddy, 1991).
  • Young people help to re-energize adults and counteract negative stereotypes of youth when they are successfully engaged in leadership within their communities (Zeldin, & Camino, 1999; Fiscus, 2003).

Here are a few additional resources that discuss the benefits of Youth Engagement and Leadership:


  • Bloomberg, L., Ganey, A., Alba, V., Quintero, G., & Alcantara, L. A. (2003). Chicano-latino youth leadership institute: An asset-based program for youth. American Journal of Health Behavior, 27, S45-S54.
  • Boyd, B. L. (2001). Bringing leadership experiences to inner-city youth. Journal of Extension, 39(4). Des Marais, J., Yang, Y., & Farzanehkia, F. (2000). Service-learning leadership development for youths. Phi Delta Kappan, 81(9), 678 - 680
  • Fertman, C. I., & van Linden, J. A. (1999). Character education: An essential ingredient for youth leadership development. NASSP Bulletin, 83(609), 9-15.
  • Fiscus, L. (2003). Youth as equal partners in decision making. The Education Digest, 68(7), 58-62.
  • Gardner, J. W. (1990). On leadership. New York: Free Press
  • MacNeil, C. (2000). Youth-Adult Collaborative Leadership: Strategies for Fostering Ability and Authority. Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services.
  • McGillicuddy, K. (1991). Response to karen pittman. Future Choices: Toward a National Youth Policy, 3(2), 95-99.
  • O'Brien, J., & Kohlmeier, J. (2003). Leadership: Part of the civic mission of school? The Social Studies, 94(4), 161
  • Zeldin, S., & Camino, L. (1999). Youth leadership: Linking research and program theory to exemplary practice. Research and practice: Completing the circle. New Designs for Youth Development, 15(1), 10-15