Chester Elton's Leadership Wisdom

Chester Elton's Leadership Wisdom for The Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit September 2020

Chester Elton is the author of "Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results" Chester shared his wisdom, passion, brilliant insights, enthusiasm, wisdom and passion for the young leaders attending The Third Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit, online on 15 September 2020.


Hi. My name is Chester Elton. I'm coming to you from just outside New York City in the United States. I am delighted you've asked me to participate in your conference. The third conference for the Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit for Refugee and Migrant Youth is a lot to remember. 

I love the theme of young people leading with optimism through the pandemic and beyond because I think that real leaders do lead with optimism. 

Here is a little bit about my background. I have a wonderful friend, Adrian Gostick, and for 20 years, we've been writing about leadership. In fact, we're ranked among the top 10 leadership gurus in the world. We just finished a wonderful book called Leading With Gratitude, which plays right into your conference. You cannot lead with optimism without leading with gratitude.

It's fascinating. I love the questions you've asked me. The one is, what makes me so optimistic? You know what makes me optimistic? Young people like you who are eager to make a difference are eager to jump in and solve problems, whether pandemic, racial inequality, or maybe social injustice. Because of the energy and optimism of youth, you can't replicate that. There's no substitute for enthusiasm. So, thank you for your willingness to jump in and get involved.

What are the significant issues that young leaders need to step up? 

Well, it's inclusion. We need young leaders like you to be loving, caring, and inclusive to ensure no one's left out. Whether you're rich or poor, Black or white, or whatever colour you are, let's make sure that we all remember that we're all brothers and sisters, that we're all human, and that we all deserve a little bit of happiness in life. 

In our research, which spans over twenty years of leadership research, the greatest leaders that I have ever known assumed positive intent about the people around them.

What does that mean? I'm going to assume that you're trying to do a good job, and in trying to do a good job, you might make mistakes, and that's OK. It's OK to make mistakes. We can fix the mistake. You are not the problem; you have a problem. So, collectively, let's get together and solve that problem. Let's not assume negative intent. In other words, you must not be a good person because you are from such a place. Let's assume that everybody is a good person until proven wrong. Let's assume positive intent about each other.

How did my leadership when I was young set me up for what I do today? My parents, Dalton Elton and Irene Tanner Elton, taught me that the best way to learn to love people, the best way to learn is to serve. And so, for two years, when I was 19 years old, I served a mission for my church in Southern Italy. I didn't get paid for that; I paid my own way. And my job was to wake up every morning and make somebody else's day a little better. When we serve each other, we learn to love each other. So be of service. It could be as simple as picking up some garbage, visiting some elderly couple or a person in the day, or writing a little note of encouragement to someone. We can all do these little random acts of kindness every day and learn to serve each other, and I hope you'll incorporate assuming positive intent and random acts of kindness into your leadership.

Lastly, what would a young person study to do what you do? I think studying anything and being curious about everything is a great way to prepare yourself to be a leader. I would encourage you to read a lot, surround yourself with positive people, and look for opportunities to serve as an individual and as a group.

Well, I have great respect for Nelson Mandela. I had a chance to visit his cell in South Africa and learn about his work. The great thing about what Nelson Mandela did was that even though he was persecuted and jailed, he forgave when he came out. He brought people together and said, "The past is the past, here's where we are, let's move forward to a positive future." 

And that's what I hope for you. I hope that you will Lead with Gratitude. That you will lead with optimism. That you will assume positive intent. That you will fill your day with random acts of kindness. And that you will help us all build a more optimistic and better world.

Well, I hope these few words are encouraging to you because your few words and this conference have been very encouraging for me. Go forth, lead with gratitude, be kind, be patient. Take care. Good luck with your conference. Cheers.

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