People often What is a leader and how do you prepare yourself as a student for a leadership position? Based on his own experiences both from school and professional life, Marketing Manager Abhishek Sareen discusses 7 student leadership skills every student should develop.
So you want to become a leader? Now since you are reading this it means that you have already started putting some effort into this and are searching for an answer. If you want to grow up to become a leader, your time as a student is the best time to start developing leadership qualities.
Before we get into the basics of leadership qualities and how to acquire them, let’s talk about what leadership really is. The term leader is often glorified too much, and is something people have become obsessed about. In fact, nowadays, people believe that if you are not a leader, you would be follower and that’s a terrible thing to be.
However, this is a myth. Everyone has their own strengths and not everyone should aim to be a leader. It’s perfectly okay to not be a leader, and to be a follower instead. Anyway, since this article is about developing leadership qualities as a student, let’s talk about that.
What is a Leader?
If I recall my school days, I was never prefect or a head boy. The world sees the people in these positions as a leader. However, these leadership positions are positions of authority; they have not been acquired by consensus in most cases. One cannot be in a leadership position by enforcing their opinions on to others. To become a leader, you need to hear and understand the thoughts of every individual and then voice out the opinion so that they feel as if you are speaking everybody’s mind.
A leader is a person that people collectively look up to and want to follow. The leader leads the path for people through his or her unique ideas that represent their people. Leaders build trust in people and align everyone’s goals, empowering and leading them to achieve these common goals.
Why Leadership Skills is Important for Students
When you are a young student in your early 20’s, it’s common to have the need to prove yourself to the society. Young people in this age group no longer want to be treated like kids and want to feel independent enough to take their own decisions. Biologically, for most students, your hormones are playing games and thus you act brash and are volatile. If I look back at myself when I was in my early 20’s, I would hate myself! I used to be brash, impatient, and jealous and had no regard for authority – and this is an extremely common thing for people in this age group. Well, a lot of it was in my mind more than what I portrayed in front of others, or that’s, at least, what I thought.
Today, I believe I have a good personality as I’m often called upon for facing the most important official guests and I have good rapport with high level executives in my company, etc. I also have lead several teams as a professional. But back when I was 24-25, I doubt I had the leadership qualities in me.
How to Develop Leadership Qualities as a Student
Leadership is not a skill that you can develop or acquire overnight. You can learn to be a leader by participating in group activities, interacting with your peers and trying to understand the reasons behind their actions. Your personality and habits create your student leadership skills slowly.
I personally feel the most important trait any student needs to practice is patience. You need to have the patience to listen to the others’ point of view and understand what they are actually saying and what they actually mean. Many times, people are not able to express themselves, so you need read their body language and hidden sentiments.
Student Leadership Qualities
Here are a few things you can do that’ll help you develop leadership qualities (you don’t need to be the monitor of your class):
- Participate in class group activities such as school fairs.
- Participate in school-level extra-curricular activities like plays, quiz teams, magazine making, etc.
- Volunteer at your local NGOs, such as schools for the underprivileged or special children.
- Join school clubs related to whatever you truly love doing, such as art, reading, science, sports, etc. Or start your own club.
- Ask your teachers if they need help with organizing group activities for junior classes.
As I have stated earlier, patience & listening are the key qualities that separate a good leader from the others. A good leader always hears everyone out, he or she has the patience not to interrupt any one. Good leader is patient enough to understand that everybody has a different set of capabilities, acumen, and hence, may have a different opinion. A good leader puts their ego aside and doesn’t pre-judge people. These are all important qualities to work on if you want to develop student leadership skills.
Now, a good leader never calls themselves a leader, nor portrays themselves to be one. The more you try to show to everyone that you are a leader, the lesser people will accept you.
My Earliest Leadership Experience
Let me give you an example here. I was probably in my sixth grade and along with a few of my friends, was participating in a school fun fair. We were supposed to organize a stall selling food and games. None of us had decided who would be leading this, nor had given any serious thought about the process of organizing this stall. But this was a complex task for 6th graders like us – we needed to deal with money, source of food, get creative in beautifying a stall, etc.
Initially, we were a group of five, but later, our school teacher told us to include two more of our classmates in our group. This was the first time we were attempting something like this in our lives. We had only been to our school fun fairs but never organized a stall. So we started planning, I gradually started foreseeing and planning how and what we needed to be doing. Gradually, some started taking some responsibility and some did not want to take any. We were never taught about the importance of student leadership skills.
I took an initiative.
We could not reach a consensus on a lot of things initially, like the name of the stall, what games we should be organizing, what food items we should be serving. But I tried my best to co-ordinate with everyone and finally, everyone started considering me like an informal leader of the group. The end result was that we did not have a very fancy stall, but everything went very smoothly and we sold a lot of games and food items, making Rs. 700 bucks per group member, plus a donation to the school servant fund.
700 bucks was a lot of money 25 years ago. So when I look back at my experience, it was my first time subconsciously realizing how to develop leadership qualities as a student. I ended up taking the most important decisions; I compromised on a lot of decisions to consider the other classmates’ opinions. So I took some responsibility, but also shared my concerns with the others who took no responsibilities. I coordinated will all, ensuring everybody is together always. I may have argued with a friend to make him realize his responsibility and in the end. Yes, it was stressful, but I was happy we made it and so was everybody in our group, I believe.
The next year, we again decided to put up a group stall. However, this time, I have no recollections what happened there, as our class teacher picked a leader and my involvement was superficial. We may have done a great job, but most students in the group never felt a part of it or created any memorable experiences, as some of my close class mates later confessed to me. Real life is very much similar.
How to Behave like a Leader
So based on my experiences as a student and in professional life, here are some of the qualities every leader needs to have. You can develop these student leadership skills right now:
Put Passion & Hard-Work in your Project
People often consider leaders as such because they are the most passionate about a project. They make people think that they have a plan, so people want to subconsciously follow their lead.
Plan Responsibilities for People and for Yourself
Leadership is about delegating tasks, too. Based on what everyone is good and enjoys doing, try to create a game-plan of what everyone will do. This will make people enjoy their tasks, and they’ll feel that you truly care for them. Doing this will also make things more efficient.
Let People feel like they’re a Part of the Decision-Making
You need to take people along with you and share the responsibility, so that they have a sense of purpose and say. People should feel like they’re also making decisions, not being ordered to do things.
Treat People Based on their Strengths & Weaknesses
Understanding everyone’s differences is key to developing student leadership skills. Yes, there will be compromises you’ll need to make, but you need to understand everybody is different – everyone has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, and so you need to treat people differently.
Tell People the Reasoning behind Your Decisions
If you want to take a hard decision, you need to articulate the justification well to your team and have them on-board. Also, remember that majority is not always right, as sometimes it’s short sighted. A lot of times people in a leadership position think that if they can do it a certain thing efficiently, so should everybody else. However, they should always consider the consensus. Thus a leader needs to treat people based on their strengths and keep their ego aside.
Patience is one of the most important student leadership skills that you’ll use in real life. If things don’t go as planned, just try to be patient. Failure is as natural as anything else. Try to analyze the situation in a calm way, and discuss with your peers their ideas on problem-solving if necessary.
Learn to say No
Sometimes, you may get conflicting ideas from your team-mates. In such situations, leaders need to be strong and take a decision. It’s important to always take a decision, even more than whether it’s the right decision or not. So sometimes, you may need to say no to some people.
Student Leadership Skills
I hope you got some wisdom from my experiences. It’s only now that when I look back at my past, I can analyse myself like this. Leadership and patience are virtues that develop over time. My advice to students would be to involve yourself in collaborative projects with your peers to develop student leadership skills. Practice patience and observe your own behavior.
Have any questions about student leadership skills or experiences to share? Comment below or tweet me @slubguy. Wish you all the best!
Abhishek Sareen is a marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He has extensive experience in international business and currently an independent consultant for steel tube, consumer goods and retail industry.
He is a passionate cyclist and participated in several endurance competitive events like MTB Himalaya. His interests are in behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He is a graduate in Computer Science and an MBA in Marketing. He completed his executive education from IIM-A in 2016 focusing on business strategy.