Student Leadership: From Position to Process
Students often see leadership as holding a position in a student organization and often forget the true meaning of leadership. A 2009 article by Allison Wolf included this quote by Robert Gyfoile, “Leadership is an action not a position.” I started thinking about how to translate this philosophy to my non-appointed student leaders on campus. As Student Affairs professionals, we hope to encourage students to become involved on campus and by doing so, help them develop leadership skills. But how often do we actually talk to them about becoming involved, not through running for a position, but by acting as leaders on campus? This can be a difficult task as most organizations have bylaws and legislation established by a national chapter or parent organization that limit what the organization can do. However, as advisors, we can work with our student leaders, both members of Executive boards and general body, to create opportunities for leadership development.
Most basically (and I believe most important), we need to work toward creating an environment where students feel that even when they are not members of an “E-board,” their participation is appreciated and encouraged. By having “open floor” time assigned in the agenda, we make it clear that it is something important for the organization. When approached in this way, it cannot be overseen by the E-board because, well, it is on the agenda. Another way is to encourage students on the E-Board to ask the members for projects, committees, or initiatives that they believe the organization should focus. General members can then take on a more direct leadership role in those projects. By doing this, they are not only coming up with ideas, but also developing planning and leadership skills in large and small group settings. Creating outside projects also allows for these students to establish connections with sources outside of the organization, whether other students, faculty, or staff. Finally, activities that encourage students to consider the characteristics of individuals whom they believe to be leaders can promote critical thinking about the true definition of leadership. By exploring these “everyday leaders,” students can begin to go beyond one’s title. As student affairs professionals, and leadership educators, it is essential for us to provide our students with the mindset and skills needed to create change and truly impact their communities.