Leadership

Why young leaders should raise their voices

There is a profound leadership benefit in encouraging young leaders to use their voices to “sing out.”

There is a profound leadership benefit in encouraging young leaders to use their voices to “sing out.” Image: Unsplash/Michael Maasen

Erica Viegas
Partnerships Manager, Forum Foundations, World Economic Forum
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At the closing plenary of the recent Global Shapers Annual Summit, 500 young leaders from around the world sang together — a chorus of voices from over 150 countries. Using a musical round, everyone could join in regardless of background or skill level. The room was left buzzing with the harmony of a deeply connected community.

The Summit was an inspiring weekend for the Global Shapers Community, filled with sessions on learning new skills, deep listening, the importance of collaboration and teamwork, and how to authentically express purpose and passion. The experience of collective singing tied all these themes together.

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In leadership and philanthropy circles, particularly those focused on Gen Zs, a common goal is to amplify the voices of young people — encouraging them to “speak out.” There is also a profound leadership benefit in encouraging young leaders to use their voices to “sing out.”

Here are four ways collective singing can inspire change.

1. Overcoming loneliness and creating community

Young people crave community but often don’t know how to create it. The pandemic made many people feel isolated and lonely, particularly Gen Zs, who report the highest levels of loneliness of any generation. Most of them completed their schooling online or entered the workforce remotely — forgoing regular opportunities for socialization and shared interaction.

Singing can help people forge bonds quickly, acting as a social ice-breaker. These social benefits are known to extend to very large groups. Research shows that the fast cohesion between people who sing together can bypass the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction. This quick win of creating community spirit through singing can be a meaningful start to deeper relationships, built through a shared experience.

2. Increasing emotional intelligence and creativity

Group singing requires deep listening, both to yourself and to others. It involves understanding the part you play as a whole, adapting to new styles, and supporting those around you in sharing their unique roles. It creates vulnerability and empathy — sharing a voice that is not perfect and accepting others for the voice they bring. Leadership training often seeks to create opportunities to practice and build emotional intelligence, but singing is rarely thought of as the leadership exercise it can be.

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Singing is a creative act. When collaborating with other voices, each singing experience is a creation that can be experienced — in that exact form — only once. To sing together, young leaders need to be open and adaptable, co-creating something “in the moment” that will be unique each time.

3. Fostering collaboration and teamwork

Imagine a sports game or public gathering where a national anthem is sung. Group singing, often done by thousands of participants at an arena, somehow connects an entire crowd, bringing up feelings of pride, patriotism and commonality in a tangible way.

Despite arguments against participation, which include lack of talent or tone-deafness, very few people possess no musicality. There is a commonality to music. It is found in every human culture, though its sound may vary from place to place. To sing together, you have to work together. This work, and its communal nature, is rooted in what it means to be human.

4. Increasing mental health

Gen Z has reported the highest levels of mood disorders of any other generation. While a number of factors contribute to mental health issues for young people, research shows that group singing has the potential to enhance well-being and quality of life. After just one singing session, researchers noted a cortisol decrease, increased lung capacity and respiratory health, increased oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and a higher presence of immunoglobulin A antibody. Singing exercises both sides of our brain. Through the aerobic activity of regulating the breath, mouth muscles, and the diaphragm, singing can lead to an increase in endorphins (“feel good hormones”) and decreased stress.

Networks like the Global Shapers Community are already fostering a sense of community, authentic expression and shared values for over 10,000 young members worldwide — combatting many of the issues around social isolation that are prevalent for this young generation. While young leaders don’t necessarily need to join choirs or formally train as singers to add their voices to global conversations, singing is a powerful tool — as an ice-breaker, a community builder, a leadership exercise, or just for some added fun. Young leaders should be encouraged to use their voices — both physically and metaphorically — to lead with purpose and create global impact.

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