Serving as a student leader is a great way to round out your college education. You’ll get plenty of hands-on leadership experience that should help you transition into the workforce. You’ll learn how to manage and work with others, including students with different areas of expertise from your own. Many student leaders start out with a little apprehension, but the develop better leadership skills over time. Here are some key principles of good student leadership that will serve you well from day one while also helping you grow as a leader.
Listen to those who you are leading.
You’re a leader, not a boss. There is a clear difference. Bosses tell people what to do, while leaders guide those who they are leading. If you want to be a good leader, it is important to listen to the other students in the group. Hear their concerns, consider their opinions, and be open to their suggestions. As the leader, you will often be the one who has to make the final decision on matters. But it is important to make sure that decision is one that will be well supported by and beneficial for the people in the group.
Be encouraging when offering criticism.
There may be times when you have to offer criticism to people in your group. However, you should aim to be encouraging when you offer this criticism. What does this look like? Well, instead of saying “Josh, your group email last week was too vague.” You could say “Josh, we appreciate your weekly emails, but can we talk about ways to include more details to future ones?” This approach makes it clear what changes need to be made without making the student feel guilty for their shortcomings.
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Get to know the students.
You will want to maintain professional boundaries with those who you are leading. At the same time, you want to get to know them personally to some degree. When you have a few spare minutes, sit down and chat with any students who happen to be around. Ask what their weekend plans are. Talk about activities and interests that you have in common. When you connect with the students in your group in this way, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns.
Confide in your mentor.
If you have a mentor, don’t hesitate to talk to them about your student leadership role and any challenges you face as a leader. The sooner you seek advice on challenging situations, the better. Mentors have usually been in leadership roles and can offer valuable, personalized insights to help you excel as a leader. Good leaders know when to ask for help!
Ask for feedback.
If the organization you’re leading does not already have a system set up for student leaders to receive feedback, work on creating one. It’s helpful to know what the students you’re leading think of you and your leadership skills. Through their feedback, you can figure out what you still need to work on as a leader. Make sure you allow students to submit feedback anonymously as this will encourage them to be more honest. Sometimes, putting out a simple “feedback box” for people to drop notes in after meetings is enough.
Whether you’re leading a student club, your school’s chapter of an honors society, or a group for a class project, allow the key principles above to guide you. Good leaders know how to listen, ask for feedback, seek advice, and encourage those who they lead. Your abilities will continue to grow over time.