Youth Leadership Development – Use Books

Updated: Apr 29

Looking for a way to introduce leadership in the classroom (middle school, high school, or college)? Use books! I know that sounds old fashioned or even archaic but there’s so much to learn from reading; besides readers are leaders!

Someone said, good leaders know a lot about a little, while great leaders know a little about a lot. How do you think they acquire the information? Much of it comes from reading.

For instance, John Hennessy (the tenth president of Stanford University and founder of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program) is an avid reader. If you don’t believe me, check out his book Leadership Matters – Lessons from My Journey. In the back of the book, you’ll find lists of his favorites covering different people and topics.

Even I’ve amassed a large body of knowledge from reading. My fixation with leadership began with studying leaders in the Bible, then I started reading biographies on leaders in different fields – business, government, education, sports, religion, military, etc. Now I read anything related-hot off the press.

Thus, the remainder of this posts presents the benefits, recommends materials to read, and suggests ideas for lesson planning.


Here are some of the benefits students gain:

  • First, students learn about leaders and leadership (concepts, traits, styles).

  • Secondly, you increase vocabulary, strengthen comprehension, and apply critical thinking skills.

  • Third, you have creative options for designing engaging lessons. The right exercises will transform their thinking and behavior.


This list is by no means exhaustive - only a start.

  • Biographies

The library shelves are stocked with a wide array of biographies. You generate a list of leaders, and let the students generate a list.

  • Leadership Parables/Fables

Likewise, you’ll find leadership parables/fables that will stimulate thinking. Check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A Leadership Fable. Prepare discussion questions. Direct the students to examine the personalities of the characters. Here, you can incorporate writing by asking students to prepare a one-page reaction. If you decide to include a writing assignment have students to do so before the class discussion.

  • Articles

Articles can be used for weekly current event discussions. This encourages ongoing study of leaders. Subscribe to The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or US Today. Don't overlook local newspapers.

Planning Lessons

Regarding lesson plans, your options are endless! Think about blending a combination of instructional methods. You’re destined to engage as well as meet the needs of different learners.

  • Discussions

Prompt lively discussions with a list of discussion questions. As you know, open ended questions stir more conversation. Tell students to develop innovative ways to introduce the person. Explain why the leader was chosen? What made the individual a good leader? What new information did they uncover? What is this person’s greatest achievement and/or downfall? How did this person handle adversity?

Challenge students to present and defend their opinions. Similarly, direct the class to ask questions. Simply put, healthy discussion triggers the growth of communication, listening, and critical thinking skills. At times, students will even agree to disagree.

  • Presentations

Moreover, consider having students do presentations. You can have the entire class read about the same person, you can have each student select a person to read about, or you can break the class into small groups and assign each group a different subject. In any event, mix it up and have some fun. All in all, the presentations will help the students develop public speaking skills.

  • Current Events

Additionally, current events increase awareness of the local, national, and international landscape. With that said, ask students to find articles on leaders and to give an overview .

  • Case Studies

At the same time, think about designing case studies, particularly on controversial leaders. You’ll have an abundance of people to draw from. The focus would be profiling their traits, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

By contrast, locate books that already contain case studies. I recommend Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns-Goodwin. It analyses the leadership styles of four presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson) and how they handled adversity.

  • Essays

Think about having students write different types of essays. Writing also helps to remember what you read.

  • Journal Writing

I think journal writing is most effective when it’s ongoing. With that said, create a list of prompts for students to respond to. Equally important, develop a lengthy reading list.

  • Technology

Why not direct the students to prepare a PowerPoint on a leader they've read about? Either give specific instructions for the presentations or refrain from doing so to spur creativity. Likewise, allow the students to work individually or in groups.

  • Debates

Select a leader a leader from the past or present and instruct the students to form arguments for or against controversial decisions. This activity will fire up the group. Please note that you will also need to give a crash course in debating.

An alternative is to have the class watch live debates. If you opt for this activity, direct them to critique the speaker's presentation.

  • Art

Using pencils, markers, crayons, or paint, ask students to draw a symbol that represents the leader. One might see a particular leader as a rock. What's the point? You're promoting critical thinking and creativity. Furthermore, there are no right or wrong answers. At length, students gain practice in presenting ideas.

Need more ideas? You're invited visit to learn more about 55 Ways to Engage and Inspire Youth With Leadership Training E-Book. This unique product will give you proven ideas to bring the topic to life. While you're there download a recommended reading list or two.


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