Colleges are looking for students who demonstrate leadership. But what does that even mean?
Leadership is a surprisingly slippery concept and there’s no end of books and guides and seminars about how to lead and why. Johns Hopkins even offers a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership!
Fortunately, you don’t need an advanced degree to develop your leadership skills. You don’t need to win a student government election or even be the president of a club. Instead, think of leadership as a practice and a skill, something you do every day and get better at as you go.
Our favorite way of looking at student leadership comes from The Student Leadership Challenge, which describes five things that student leaders do:
- Model the Way: Lead by example, and demonstrate the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see in others. Don’t just talk about doing good, but take action to set a positive example.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: Motivate others by helping them to see a shared vision for the future. Be clear and specific about your vision, and it will be something that others can believe in and work towards.
- Challenge the Process: Question the status quo, and actively seek out ways to make things better. You may need to take risks to create change.
- Enable Others to Act: A leader facilitates the work of the whole group, and provides the resources and support that others need in order to achieve their goals.
- Encourage the Heart: Recognize and appreciate the efforts of others. Celebrate successes and help others to feel good about their contributions.
You can do those things in ways both big and small. Whether you’re leading formal organization — or starting your own — or just being kind to others, leadership is something we can do every day that helps us improve ourselves and the world around us.