Millennial Leadership

Who we’ll soon be electing, and why it’s going to be a problem

 Kurt Vonnegut once said, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country”. While it is a scary thought that the guy you saw passed out on a couch at last week’s party could in a position of influence some day, I am more concerned about how we are cultivating the majority of the leaders of tomorrow. Future leaders are sacrificing life experience for the safety of spotless records, and this will lead to nothing besides a systematic destruction of ability to truly lead.

My concern stems from the increasing role that sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram play in our daily lives from a young age. Potential leaders are becoming increasingly concerned with maintaining a spotless online persona, to the point that their online image becomes a principle priority – and with good reason. We’ve seen what technology can do to public figures in the Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner scandals, and though we scoff at the buffoonish behaviour of these middle-aged men it incites an important question: “Haven’t you ever done something that would be scandal material?” But then again, should this really be the only question we ask potential leaders?

Glance at your Facebook and you will probably see drunken pictures from Carnival, or the unsavory photo you took as a joke for your friend. The simple truth is that most 20-somethings have at least a few pictures of drinking and partying floating around on the Internet. Usually these photos aren’t an issue until a job interview, but in the not-so-distant future we will be electing politicians who have lived their whole lives online.

When anyone with the ability to type can see about 1000 pictures of a potential candidate’s college days, won’t you always vote for the straight-A student over the party animal? This example may seem extreme but it is indicative of the future of our leadership decisions. The natural response to this idea is that, of course, we’d rather have the clean cut over the slob, the straight lace over the drunk. But considering this instinctive response, an increasing level of information saturation fundamentally changes the way people live in pursuit of these jobs, these positions, these lives. In some situations, transparency is to be desired, however this increasing saturation of information is fundamentally destroying the way these future leaders lead their lives.

We all know one or two people who throughout high school and college did their very best to stay squeaky clean, never breaking rules, seldom drinking and having conniptions when a Facebook picture of them at a party appears. We knew that those people had planned their next thirty years and none of them wanted to jeopardize their chances at becoming our future Prime Minister. When asked about this phenomenon, McMaster student and prospective doctor Elliot Hepworth commented, “I’ve always made an effort to not get caught holding alcohol… it was always just a little neurotic tendency of mine.”Similarly, McGill Management student Nathan Mooney remarked, “As a student we are constantly fed stories, true or not, about employers taking a keen interest in your online social life.”

Even with a limited sample size it is clear that this frame of mind is becoming increasingly common amongst our generation. Even if youth aren’t living in sterile rooms, the fear of being passed over or rejected based on their online persona is omnipresent.This permeating frame of mind is causing the youth to avoid experiences which not only help them grow as potential leaders but as human beings.

The issue is not the existence of career conscious chaps planning their future years in advance, but the fear that we are limiting our options for the future. We don’t just seek a spotless record from our leaders; this is not a college application. Leadership qualities are cultivated and established by experience. Clinton marched in protest of the Vietnam War; Obama experimented with marijuana and cocaine. Past choices don’t always dictate whether or not one will be an influential leader; people are defined by the sum of their experiences, not by the temptations they avoided.

The kids who dream of public office have not spent their years cultivating personality and skill, but have instead avoided experience in favor of safety. These people spurned parties for model UN and socials at Young Leader conferences. While others were living their lives, these “future leaders” paused theirs at 16.

Sadly, I do not see this pattern changing. There will always be people who spend every waking hour in the library in pursuit of their ideal career and there will always be those who sacrifice their lives now in exchange for what they desire 20 years in the future. However, I hope that when we go to vote for candidate A or B, each one with identical spotless records, we begin to question whether this is the right behaviour to reward.

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