Five tips for building five key leadership skills – Part 5: Solving problems

Explore some quick suggestions to add opportunities to develop problem-solving skills during youth development activities.

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Any project within youth development programs can benefit from adding layers of leadership skills. These skills include decision-making, responsible citizenship, public speaking, setting goals and problem-solving. Infusing these skills will add dimension to any project area.

Here are a few ideas any volunteer can use to enhance the problem-solving skills of their participants:

  • Allow youth time to be creative. This may be giving them unstructured time to just play with learning kits, an opportunity for artistic expression of an idea or letting them come up with new ways to accomplish regular tasks. Providing youth time to be creative helps their brains gain flexibility to think of new ideas, which will build their problem-solving skills.
  • Practice problem-solving with your participants. Give them a hypothetical issue related to their projects and allow them time to brainstorm ideas, discuss options as a group and organize an action plan for how they would proceed. Encouraging conversation among the youth will give them a chance to hear other perspectives and ideas they might not otherwise think about.
  • When youth come to adults on how to solve a problem, the adults should say, “I don’t know, what do you think?" This encourages youth to not rely on adults, but problem-solve on their own. This can sometimes be difficult to adults because they have had the experience before and already know how to solve it.
  • Create space for youth to talk about real-world issues. Giving them small doses of what’s going on in the larger world stage will prepare them for an adulthood of sifting through issues. It is also helpful for them to see the process that leads to decisions, so that even if they don’t agree with a particular choice, they can appreciate the factors that were considered.
  • Allocate time for discussion of problem-solving methods. If youth have not been exposed to thinking about this type of skill before, they may appreciate being able to talk about the process of thinking through options. Hearing how others solve problems will give them more ideas the next time they encounter a situation where they need those skills.

The newly revised Teen Leadership Project Guide is an excellent additional resource to help young people think of leadership as a project, as well as help them plan for how to improve and increase their skills. 

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.


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