4-H is the largest youth organization in the US, with six million participants. 4-H contributes to developing positive leadership and life skills (LLS). This research examined the essence of LLS development of 4-H youth while serving as an officer for the Georgia State Board of Directors. The population was 4-H state-level leaders who served from 2016 to 2018 (N = 18, n = 12). A qualitative phenomenological research design was used to describe what and how participants experienced being in a state-level leadership role, resulting in the essence of participants’ lived experiences in the context of LLS development. Face-to-face interviews led to textural and structural descriptions of participants' experiences, resulting in the essence of the experience as a sharpening stone. Participants gained LLS in serving others, building confidence, open-mindedness, self-awareness, motivation, communication skills (speaking, listening, writing), personal agency, transfer of learning, and solidified college and career goals. Peer-influence was the most important factor in shaping participants’ choices to belong to 4-H and strive for leadership roles. A peer affiliated with 4-H and serving as a leader deeply inspired youth to run for a state-level leadership role. Adult and peer influence served as the “honing process” to cultivate and sharpen LLS.



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