When asked “what’s leadership?” all of us most likely have our own mental image and list of characteristics of what we equate with a successful leader. Recently, when meeting one-on-one for our monthly “updates” session, I had the opportunity to ask several students, who are each officers in campus organizations, what leadership is to them. I had no expectation of what type of responses I would get, but was curious to hear the answers.
In as much length and detail that they felt would answer the question, I asked each to finish the statement “In campus activities, student leadership is…”.
I have listed demographic facts about the respondent as a reference point.
Here are several responses I received:
“…an experience that will profoundly impact your life, if you attack it with gusto!” (Senior, Female, Bio Major)
“…a chance to have a diverse resume.” (Sophomore, Male, History Major)
“…like playing in a sandbox. You have great toys, that sometimes you share, but you just love playing. If someone comes in your sandbox and poos in it, you get angry – immediately booting them out of the area, but accepting them back in when you think they’ve learned.” (Junior, Female, Legal Studies Major)
“…better than working at McDonald’s.” (Senior, Female, Business Major)
“…like Frogger. To succeed, you have to cross a very busy road, missing obstacles and choosing a path that works out for you. Sometimes, you don’t make it – but at least you stepped out into traffic.” (Freshman, Female, Undeclared)
Personally, I relate strongly with the Frogger answer. The object of the video game referenced is for a frog to cross a multi-lane highway of traffic approaching at various speeds. The frog gets a couple of lives, with the best case scenario (winning maximum points) being to cross the street without incident.
Reflecting this example to leadership…isn’t that our best case as well – to succeed in reaching our goal without too many setbacks? When we make it to the other side, we’re probably grinning just like the frog – celebrating a job well done. The end of the statement “but at least you stepped out into traffic” confirms a student leader’s mind frame – as student leaders are often those who are willing to step in front of the crowd even when the challenge ahead could be win or lose.
I thank all of my students for allowing me the privilege to share your insight. I learn so much from each of you every day.
If you were asked to complete the statement, what would your answer be?