Great student leadership is best defined as the development of a student’s capacities to lead others including organisational skills, presentation skills and team-building abilities.
It also refers to the development of leadership characteristics including accountability, integrity and reliability.
Great student leadership is shown in many ways and in different forums including peer mentoring, ambassadorship, community service and citizenship.
Leadership is demonstrated through a single act such as a student giving a verbal report at a school assembly. Great student leadership can also be shown over a long period of time as occurs when students hold leadership positions.
Great leadership is situational
Great student leadership is also situational. That is, some situations require students to step up and assume responsibility, take a lead and resolve a problem between two students or reach out to a fellow student who is struggling.
Leadership is internal and needs a variety of situations or opportunities to draw it out so it’s recognised and leadership behaviours are repeated.
Character counts more than personality
When I first began in the area of student leadership thirty years ago many student leadership elections were glorified popularity contests. Students gave speeches and regardless of their merit often the most popular or most sporting student won.
Times have changed and student cultures now have greater depth and nuance. In most schools the character of students reins supreme. Character traits such reliability, conscientiousness, and honesty carry more weight than more transient traits such as having a winning smile, possessing many friends and appearance..
Perhaps, the greatest misconception is that great student leaders are likely to be extroverts. While research about personality types among student leaders is thin, much of the research around adult leadership shows that leaders come in all shapes, and that introverts make exceptional leaders.
And there are many of them.
It is essential that we don’t overlook the quiet, even shy kids when it comes to giving out leadership roles. They may not be the attention-grabbers but they can make great team-builders, problem-solvers and ambassadors.
Introverts often need more mental health support than extroverts as leadership is frequently a wellspring of anxiety for this cohort.
Top Ten leadership capabilities and traits
The characteristics of great student leadership are many and varied. Following are my Top Ten traits and capabilities from both observation and research.
- Personal integrity including honesty, a strong moral compass and the willingness to do what’s right, not what’s easy.
- Proficient presentation skills. Clear oral communication is a skill shared by nearly every effective student leader I’ve met. Vital for adults too. That’s why Toastmasters is full of aspiring leaders who wan to learn how to speak in front of others.
- Willingness to take personal responsibility. Such an important aspect of integrity that it deserves its own category.
- Ability to build and support a team. If kids can’t build cohesiveness in a group they can’t lead.
- Emotional intelligence including high levels of self-regulation. So underestimated!
- Capacity to organise others and then delegate tasks. More management than leadership but part of the building blocks to more strategic leadership styles that come to the fore down the track.
- Openness to accepting challenges. Defensiveness is the enemy of both self-improvement and leadership.
- They are good encouragers. Encouragement is the simplest, most powerful way to build others up and help them fulfil their potential.
- Possess a positive outlook. Positivity is like a magnet that pulls people in.
- They have a benefit mindset -they serve others. Exactly!
This list is by no means exhaustive is a guide to developing and encouraging leadership capacities in students.
What would be your top 3, 5 or 10 student leadership skills and traits to build?
Share your list in the Comments section below. I’d love to know your thoughts.
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