June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Commentary // 3COM2

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Agents of Change: Thoughts on Youth Development

4-H Agents are change agents who foster changes in youth, communities, and individuals. As a youth development organization, we have an opportunity to clarify what we want to develop in youth. As we enter the new millennium, we are faced with the task of managing change and helping others adapt to change. This article discusses how the need to empower youth is intertwined with our own task of empowering ourselves.

Karee Teague
Extension Agent, 4-H
Watauga County
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Boone, North Carolina
Internet Address: Karee_Teague@ncsu.edu

Change Is the Theme

This is a discussion about change and empowerment: how our society is changing, how our paradigms are changing, how organizational management is changing. It is about looking at qualities we need to emphasize as a youth development organization, in what we develop in youth, in how we do programming, and in who we are as individuals. It is about how we can manage and cultivate change.

The premise discussion is that our task is to create empowered people, people who can respond dynamically to situations and create needed results. If our organizational mission is to cultivate productive citizens, then what the world needs and what people need to be is entrepreneurial, creative, and empowered.

As Marsha Sinetar (1995) states, "Be assured that you'll gain lasting 'job security' only as you become self-reliant, creatively resourceful and fully engaged with your process of enterprise. " In order to cultivate empowered people, we ourselves must encourage it in ourselves and our youth. Sinetar also states that "Superfluidity now affects each of our lives....One of our era's assignments is to manage tumultuous change."

How do we manage change? We do it by being adaptable to change and "taking charge constructively" (Palmer, 1995).

The Stage

Vocational development will be increasingly important for our youth. As the world of work shifts its paradigm from focusing on paychecks to the intrinsic benefits of work, a sacred view of work will arise (Senge, 1990). We will need to explore qualities that foster vocational awareness, as discussed by Sinetar (1995). It will be more and more important for us to find our true vocation, because we will be called to be committed and creative. As Sinetar points out, entrepreneurs are authentic. "Over time they do what they sense themselves born to do. It's fun to watch people become true to themselves."

Vocational awareness involves self-awareness, including such qualities as being inner-directed, creative, and self-actualizing. Sinetar adapts and grafts Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" onto a vocational awareness pyramid, creating a developmental framework. Our task will be to foster personal qualities that foster a spirit of entrepreneurship, qualities such as Sinetar lists:

  • An inventive inclination;
  • Authentic focus;
  • Meaningful purposes;
  • "Figuring-out" skills;
  • Risk-taking effectiveness;
  • A strategic, long-term outlook; and
  • High spiritual intelligence.

How will we develop youth into adults who are entrepreneurs, who are self-aware, learning- and growth-oriented people? We will need these characteristics within ourselves in order to find creative ways. We will need to be role models for them. We will need to be an empowering organization, and we will need to be empowered individuals.

Organizational Change

The history of the Cooperative Extension and 4-H reflects an organization that has changed and adapted as society and the economy have changed. Now, the Extension system is at another critical juncture where we must adapt and re-define ourselves. People and organizations are being called to become more adaptable and flexible as well as unique and diverse. We as an organization are threatened by outside competition and pressures in the face of which we must strive to remain relevant, fundable, and accountable.

According to William Bridges (1996), "Dealing successfully with change is a survival skill these days, what with all the new technology, merger, and reorganizing. And I mean survival literally." Bridges (1995) discusses the difference between change and transition. Change is external and situational, while transition implies internal, psychological characteristics. In order to make changes, we need to be aware of the transition process. "The next time you are having trouble implementing a change that looked easy on paper, consider the possibility that the problem isn't with the change but with the transition." This leads to the importance of personal change in the context of organizational change.

Personal Change

How do we become change agents in 4-H, creating the results we want? Senge (1990) discusses the qualities of people who are able to get results. These are people with a high level of personal mastery. "Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively." Personal mastery involves personal growth and learning. "It means approaching one's life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to a reactive viewpoint." These sorts of people have a sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals. They have learned how to perceive and work with forces of change.

Being willing to try new things is not easy. Organizational change theorists have found that despite best intentions, change does not occur readily, at least with the approaches in the current paradigm. Why is change so difficult, and how can we become change oriented?

Being change oriented involves deeply personal matters. It can be threatening. It involves taking risks, being vulnerable, recognizing mistakes and correcting them, risking embarrassment. Schein (1999) discusses learning anxiety, "the feeling that if we allow ourselves to enter a learning or change process, if we admit to ourselves and others that something is wrong or imperfect, we will lose our effectiveness, our self-esteem, and maybe even our identity." Schein goes on to explain that "Adapting poorly or failing to meet our creative potential often looks more desirable than risking failure and loss of self-esteem in the learning process."

According to Senge (1990), we can begin by developing our personal mastery, which largely involves cultivating a personal vision. "It's that courage to take a stand for one's vision that distinguishes people with high levels of personal mastery." As a 4-H educator, do you have a clear vision of what you want for your program and youth? Does it fit with the 4-H organizational vision and the needs of the people? Our visions must be laced with purpose and basic touchstone principals.

A person with personal mastery must have patience and persistence. "Truly creative people use the gap between vision and current reality to generate energy for change" (Senge, 19990). Senge discusses two beliefs that limit our ability to create what we want, a sense of powerlessness (belief in our inability to bring into being all the things we really care about) and unworthiness (the belief we do not deserve to have what we truly desire). We need to be able to hold onto the vision and not allow ourselves to lose sight of it.


As youth development professionals, part of our task is to guide youth as they change and grow into adults. Extension agents are called upon to be agents of change, to take what is and make it into what could be. We consciously or unconsciously have a vision of what we want to develop in youth in order for them to become productive citizens. In this time of transition, our youth will need unique qualities in order to be successful in life.

As change agents, we not only guide youth through changes, we work with individuals, groups, and communities to improve the quality of children's lives. To do this, we must be empowered ourselves. As we look to what qualities we want to develop in youth, we must look at our own selves and ask, "Are we modeling the qualities we want to encourage in them?" We have the multilevel task of being what we want others to be. Thus, the issue of youth development is interwoven with the task of our own development.


Bridges, W. (1995). Don't forget to manage the transition too. William Bridges and Associates [On-line]. 8(3). Available: http://www.wmbridges.com/articles/base.html

Bridges, W. (1996). How you can handle change better. William Bridges and Associates [On-line]. 9(2). Available: http://www.wmbridges.com/articles/base.html

Bridges, W. (1996). Why change management isn't enough. William Bridges and Associates [On-line] 9(4). Available: http://www.wmbridges.com/articles/base.html

Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, D. E. (1995). Taking Charge Constructively. Tucson, Arizona: Development Publications, LLC.

Schein, E. H. (1999). Kurt Lewin's Change Theory in the Field and in the Classroom: Notes Toward a Model of Managed Learning. The Society for Organizational Learning [On-line]. Available: http://www.solonline.org/res/wp/10006.html

Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday/Currency.

Sinetar, M. (1995) To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love. New York: St. Martin's Press.