Being a leader is not easy. There are countless factors and people to consider at any given moment. Being a leader, however, is a life-changing and life-steering opportunity to positively influence other people. As a student leader, you have the privilege to impact peers, the community, and your campus every day. Having any sort of reach to influence others is a great responsibility and understanding the meaning behind it is essential for everyone. Leadership styles are all different, but here are four traits that every student leader need not forget:
1. FULLY PRESENT, FORWARD-LOOKING
Sharing a vision and fostering its growth with relationship-building and goal-setting.
Leaders are bifocal, always looking at both the process and outcome. They understand the details of working with people and how their opinions must be heard and considered before making further steps. They take time to get to know the people on their team to gain insight on their strengths and potential contributions. Think of a leader as a conductor of an orchestra. They oversee the pace of the music, paying attention to various sections of musicians while working towards an engaging and emotional performance. Conductors are able to think notes ahead, anticipating the turns of tone and guiding musicians to change tempo if need be. Similarly, student leaders are in rhythm with the interactions on their team and the overall project development. If something begins to sound off key, leaders are the first to respond with some fine-tuning, knowing the desired sound and sharing that vision with everyone else.
No hidden agendas. Consistent openness and a willingness to show your true self.
Gaining trust from a group of people can be difficult, keeping it can be harder. Student leaders accept this challenge by being transparent and conveying clear, direct, and honest information. Even more than that, they feel compelled to do so not in their own best interest but in the best interest of their organization. Especially when leading peers your age, it is essential to be seen as the real you. If there are conflicts among team members, rising concerns over new policies, or a personal dilemma, people will respond better if the news is shared in a sincere and straightforward way. By doing so, you are showing people respect for their time and their thoughts, allowing them to know about a situation and to make up their own minds. Being transparent tells people that your concern for the group is a priority and that you are willing to sacrifice self-importance and self-perception for honesty. True emotion and vulnerability do have a place in leadership and often times that’s what makes leaders even stronger.
3. FIRM STANCE, FLEXIBLE GRASP
Rooted in personal and organizational values while having the ability to accept change.
Just as important as having your own principles is the open-mindedness to value those that are different. People look to leaders to gauge situations or make the first move, and there are reasons why they have been chosen to do so. Anchored in ideals like social justice, collaboration, mentoring, or community involvement, leaders identify strongly with their core values and show people where their actions are coming from. The extension of this quality is being able to make choices when their values are tested. For this trait we can think of a leader as being their own solar system. They are centered in their world of values and cannot choose what goes into their orbit. Sometimes, collisions of ideas happen when they’re least expected. When this happens, leaders must accept the change, learn how to listen to conflicting opinions, and gather the information needed to make an unbiased decision. They may be unwavering in their central ideals but are always ready to listen to the input of others and apply new knowledge.
4. LOVE AND LIGHT
Creating a loving and supportive atmosphere by empowering others to rise to their best selves.
Forbes contributor Meghan M. Biro describes this quality as “something that transcends the every day ordinary and the practical, they engage you on an emotional level.” As described in the Harvard Business Review, there are multiple studies to back this up, showing that “employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.” Student leaders are not just called upon to run meetings and make decisions. They are called to create a warm and inviting environment for their team members to feel secure and heard. Remember, those who feel encouraged to do their best are more likely to excel. A smile, a thank you note, a friendly follow-up, a motivational email, or a team retreat (that’s just for fun), can help boost morale. It’s about making spaces that are conducive to conversation, safe from judgment, and inspiring to be in. Student leaders have a lot to do, but it’s the way they do it that makes all the difference.
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