82% of Young Adults Say Society Is in a Leadership Crisis

Articlesin Millennials & Generations•October 30, 2019

In The Connected Generation, a recent Barna study conducted in partnership with World Vision, data show that young adults face some unique headwinds on their road to becoming effective leaders. When we take time to listen—an essential practice for connecting with 18–35-year-olds—we hear a sense of unease about the future and uncertainty about the kind of leaders that could make a difference.

Part of it is the underlying sense of anxiety that permeates many societies today. For good reason, the connected generation perceives deep, wide, systemic problems facing the world’s future. Four out of five affirm—and nearly half strongly affirm—that “society is facing a crisis of leadership because there are not enough good leaders right now” (82%). This is one of the most widely endorsed statements in the entire global survey, which suggests its significance to this generation. In addition, one-third believes that “what it takes to be an effective leader seems to be changing.”


Spheres of Leadership
Barna asked young adults in what areas of their life they exercise some level of leadership. Nearly half say they are a leader in their family, and one-third feels like a leader in their workplace or elsewhere, such as a church or government. We group the latter into a category called “leaders outside the home,” who are half of all respondents (51%); one in five is a “family-only leader” (19%), meaning they select family as their only sphere of leadership.

Three in 10 young adults do not now (8%) or have never (22%) considered themselves to be a leader; we call them “non-leaders,” since that’s what they call themselves. Given that male leadership has been the rule of thumb for most of human history, more young women (35%) than young men (26%) are non-leaders. (Relatedly, 57 percent of family-only leaders are women, and women are more likely than men to see gender inequality as a challenge to leadership, 35% vs. 24%.)

Since many cultures look first to older members of the community for leadership, those under the age of 25 are more apt than those on the older end of the age range to say they are not leadership material (35% vs. 28%). Unmarried adults, rural residents, those who are less educated and people who report economic insecurity are more likely to reject the “leader” label, compared to married, highly educated, financially stable entrepreneurs who live in the city.

There’s a high concentration of young adults in secular climates who do not consider themselves to be leaders (39% vs. 23% Christian climates, 36% multi-faith climates). Every European country in the study has a higher percentage of self-identified non-leaders than the global average. Concurrently, 41 percent of agnostics, atheists and “nones” deny they are a leader in any sphere.



The Connected Generation

The Role Churches Play
So how are churches contributing to the development of leaders? For one thing, there are millions in the connected generation who consider themselves to be leaders in their church or faith community. It’s a relatively small slice of the total population, but one in 11 says they are a leader in their community of faith (9%). More young adults in majority Christian climates (13%), especially in the global South (23% Africa, 10% Latin America / South America), report serving as leaders in their church.

We asked churchgoing young adults about three different domains of leadership development: (1) opportunities to contribute, (2) models of faithfulness (how they’ve been inspired by their church relationships) and (3) seeing needs and serving others.

Churches are most effective at giving young adults chances to “feel like part of a team,” to be inspired to “live generously based on the example of others in my church” and to “better understand the needs of the poor.” Those who are self-described leaders are more likely to take advantage of the opportunities offered by their church.


David Kinnaman Comments on the Challenges to Developing Young Leaders
“The connected generation is looking for the Church to provide real, tangible, meaningful opportunities for development,” Barna president David Kinnaman notes. “They want the church to be a laboratory of leadership, not just a place for spirituality. They want their faith to intersect the realities of life and, as budding Christian leaders, they want to address real life issues.

“Some leadership qualities and principles are timeless and rise above cultural or generational differences: honesty, integrity, conviction and courage, to name a few,” Kinnaman explains. “But other ideas about what makes a good leader are contextual and therefore not always applicable everywhere to everyone. Problems with and barriers to leadership often differ, as well. ‘Leadership’ is a concept highly shaped by culture and, increasingly, by generation.

“This relates to our first challenge to developing young leaders today: Generations perceive and practice leadership differently. Remember, many in the connected generation agree that ‘what it takes to be an effective leader seems to be changing,’” Kinnaman adds.

“If you are trying to develop young leaders, listen. What words do they use when they talk about accomplishing great things? When they dream aloud about participating in God’s mission? When they brainstorm about starting something new or rewarding?

“A second challenge is that we lack effective pipelines, processes and models to form young leaders,” Kinnaman continues. “Based on U.S. data collected over three decades, we know that institutions in general and churches in particular are performing below ‘replacement levels’ when it comes to identifying and preparing new leaders.”

“If we’re not making room for younger leaders today,” Kinnaman concludes, “they won’t be around tomorrow.” 

This article is adapted from the newly released The Connected Generation book. Purchase the report or access a suite of related resources at theconnectedgeneration.com. 

Comment on this research and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @brookehempell | @barnagroup
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About the Research
This study is based on online, representative public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. A total of 15,369 respondents ages 18 to 35 across 25 countries were surveyed between December 4, 2018 and February 15, 2019. See full details of sample distribution based on continent and country at theconnectedgeneration.com. Unless otherwise noted, all data referenced in The Connected Generation were collected by Barna, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For this study, Barna relied on online collection methods, including mobile phone users. The study used online national consumer panels that are representative by age, gender, region and ethnicity. Respondents were fully verified by the representative sample sources. Additionally, quality control measures checked that respondents were completing the survey at an appropriate pace and paying attention to the questions asked. The survey was offered in nine different languages, (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Romanian, Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese), translated by a trusted translation service and verified by local partners in every country for context-specific nuance. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base, the CIA World Fact Book and available census data from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Philippines and Singapore, quotas were designed to ensure the final group of adults interviewed in the study reflected each country’s distribution of adults nationwide based on age, gender, ethnicity and region. Online surveys necessitate literacy and an internet connection, which means the sample reflects adults who have those capabilities and does not reflect those who are unable to read or lack connectivity to respond to online surveys. Thus, in spite of a robust methodology, this sample is not meant to be representative of entire national populations, regions, continents or the world. The countries selected for this study were based on countries and regions where Barna and World Vision receive frequent requests for research-based insights. These and other concerns or limitations were respectfully considered while interpreting the data.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2019


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