Leadership is a popular subject. We read about it through the lens of business and commerce, sports, medicine, and lately most prominently in politics. But what makes a leader? When we consider this question in the context of education, we sometimes tend to think about our educators and administration, but some of the biggest leaders are the students in the classroom. If we want to instill future leadership, the way to do that is through our students and children.
But how can students, especially those with learning differences, become leaders in their classrooms? How can students at boarding schools fulfill leadership roles? It certainly is not an overnight process, but there are ample opportunities for students to step up to the proverbial plate and become leaders amongst their peers and in their communities.
Perhaps above all else, leadership is a mindset. It is true that leading does not happen without action, but before any action can be taken, people need to understand their own capacity and desire to lead. This is true for everyone from today’s foremost business leaders to the head of the high school debate club.
Instilling our students with the understanding that they do have tremendous capabilities to make a difference in the world is the first step in creating that change. In our institutions this doesn’t necessarily mean creating “leadership programs,” but rather ensuring that students have the chance to create and organize activities and groups of their own.
Students should feel empowered to lead, and this empowerment can take all forms. Here are a few areas at Eagle Hill School where we see our students taking charge:
We believe that each of these areas allows students to take advantage of opportunities to shine, both for their own personal gain, and also for the benefit of others.
How to Begin
Students should pick something that they are truly passionate and knowledgeable about. Even if they perhaps aren’t experts yet, that shouldn’t stop them from getting involved in something they feel strongly about—this is how leaders are formed. Setting a course of action or a number of goals can be helpful when working with students to understand the road to leadership. Programs such as New Student Orientation or Student Council should all be designed with standard goals for each member, but also allow for students to create their own personal goals and trajectory.
If you open any Forbes magazine or business website, you’ll see countless enumerations of the “Five must-have traits to be a leader,” or “You know you’re a leader if….” While some of these are valid traits, they are certainly not the final determinant in who and what makes for an effective leader.
What’s most important in today’s and tomorrow’s future leaders is:
- An unyielding zest for continuous learning
- A true desire to help and inspire those around us
- A willingness to take on responsibility and to delegate
- The ability to motivate others through compassion and understanding
While these are only a few of the traits that great leaders possess, they are important ones. Leadership, at the end of the day, is not about how many people you oversee or how “inspirational” you can be—it is about truly forwarding the progress and spirit of those around you.
Students should seek to become leaders for the many personal benefits that come with the territory: the sense of pride and accomplishment, opportunities to build their skills and acumen, and to build new and lasting relationships. But they should also want to help those in need, to mobilize their peers and communities, and to create a lasting impression on the world.