For decades, children and youth have been regarded as the greatest asset and the promise of a better future for the whole society. In the United States, children and adolescents remain one of the most privileged social strata. Numerous systems, organizations, and social networks operate to ensure that children are healthy, educated, and happy in their families. The case of the juvenile justice system is no exception to this rule: since the end of the 19th century, juvenile courts have been correcting child and adolescent offenders, guiding them towards better goals and showing them the most meaningful ways to becoming useful citizens. The philosophy of the juvenile probation system differs greatly from that of the probation system for adults. Juvenile probation officers have great hopes that the crimes committed by children and adolescents will become the last negative page in their lives. As a juvenile probation officer, my leadership philosophy rests on the values of respect, caring, and responsibility; I am strongly committed to the transformational perspective of leadership, and its meaning is to direct juvenile offenders towards positive change and guide them through the journey towards a better future.
I must say that juvenile justice is not the same as criminal justice for adults. We, juvenile probation officers, tend to focus on offenders' individuality, rather than the nature of the criminal offense. We are expected to be leaders in guiding juvenile delinquents through the most difficult times and give them a sense of hope that they can change their lives to the better. The juvenile community is very sensitive to everything that is happening around them. They are products of the environment, in which they are bound to grow. This is why the core value of my personal leadership philosophy is caring: I view myself as a person, who should help juvenile delinquents to overcome barriers to social prosperity, while showing compassion, kindness, and understanding of their life circumstances. John Maxwell believed in caring as the fundamental element of any leadership, because one can care for people without leading but cannot lead them without caring (Kruse, 2012). Many children and adolescents become criminals, because they do not understand the severity of their actions. Many others apply to delinquency, simply because they want to survive. My second core leadership value is that of respect: every juvenile delinquent is a personality, and everyone deserves his/her share of respect. As a juvenile probation officer, I try to see the best features in young delinquents and use them to transform their consciousness. I promote trustworthiness and responsibility in my relationships with young criminals, being honest and courageous with them and assuming full responsibility for making them desirable citizens in their society.
John Maxwell once said: "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way" (Kruse, 2012). I strongly believe in leadership as a source of positive influences on young delinquents. This influence has nothing to do with coercion or formal authority. Rather, it is the positive influence that grows from the trust, openness, and fairness in my relations with juvenile criminals. My strongest leadership belief is that leaders can and must add value to their followers. As a juvenile probation officer, I am expected to understand, serve, and transform my followers. More specifically, I am expected to understand offenders' needs and concerns, serve their needs for the sake of transforming them into responsible citizens. Certainly, I am not omnipotent, and I cannot create favorable social conditions for every young follower, but I can show them a better way of doing things and support them in their striving to avoid crime in the future.
My leadership philosophy combines the elements of the transformational and servant leadership perspectives. This is why I often say that my juvenile probation philosophy is complex and integrated. As a transformational leader, I view myself as a carrier of positive change. As a servant leader, I perceive myself as a person, who must be sensitive to the needs of followers and serve them. As a result, my integrated leadership perspective is that of transforming followers by serving their needs. I want to make my followers look beyond personal interest and lead them by personal example. Both transformational and servant leadership perspectives reflect my commitment to the core values of caring, responsibility, and trustworthiness, because both these perspectives rely on the principles of personalized consideration and charismatic influence. My fundamental task is to foster delinquents' transformation and development, by presenting an example of strength, openness, honesty, and caring attitudes, while also respecting their personality and adding value to them.
My meaning of leadership is not in dominating others; rather, its meaning is about directing followers to positive change and creating favorable conditions for a smooth journey towards a better future. The society is used to believe that juvenile delinquency cannot be eradicated. My task as a leader is to challenge the existing status quo and prove that positive change is needed. As a juvenile probation officer, I view the meaning of leadership through the prism of multiple perspectives. In other words, I must learn to assume followers' perspectives on various issues and understand the causes and motives behind their actions. I will use my leadership capacities to change the public perception of juvenile justice as the source of coercion and force. My chief responsibility here is to persuade the community that juvenile justice values human dignity and has the potential to reduce the scope of delinquency, by fostering individual growth and public appreciation of children and adolescents' wants and needs.
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