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9 Ways to Maximize Your College Leadership Experience post image

I’m often asked which colleges are the best for “leadership.” The short answer is “most will do just fine.” As with most of life, it’s what you make of it. College is a great place to grow as a leader.

Much of your leadership learning will come from peripheral aspects of the college experience. Being involved. Living with strangers. Leading without authority. Getting along in diverse groups. Projects with assigned (potentially lazy) teams. Live it deeply. Make mistakes. Try new approaches. Keep leading and learning.

This post is for my son, Ben, and other young leaders graduating high school and heading to college. I’ve collected advice from seasoned leaders across the globe. If you aren’t headed to college, please comment with your advice, and pass the post along to an aspiring young leader.

Annette Schmeling, VP of Student Development at University of Dayton, suggests making a specific plan.

  • Focus first on Academic Success
  • Identify 3-5 “activities outside the classroom” to be involved in. List the activities, explain why they are important to you
  • Make connections with the career services office and learn about internships and professional development opportunities starting the freshmen year
  • Learn how to utilize social media tools to engage with others. Start early to establish a purpose-fueled online reputation

9 Ways to Learn Leadership at College (advice from the online “village”)

1. Solve Problems

Find something your passionate about and work to improve it. Dan Rockwell suggests, “gathering together” with other students to solve problems.

2. Take Risks

Get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t jump out of the 2nd story classroom (like my friend did at Wake Forest he’s stupid, but fine), but do wise things that scare you. Will Lukang says, “take risks and push yourself out of your comfort zone.” Mario Marquez shares, “Look for the uncomfortable and controversial situations, the hot potatoes that the majority will stay away from.”

3. Learn who you are

You will do great things, and many silly ones. Learn from it all. Keep reflecting on, and refining, your values. Learn to lead and lead to learn. And as Alaska Chick says, “Walk the talk and do what you say.”

4. Volunteer

The most consistent advice I received is “volunteer.” Get involved. Spend time in the community.

“Get involved in the college’s outreach programs. Most colleges have programs to tutor high school students who are not passing graduation exams, community clean-up programs, political activist groups, debate groups, open theater programs get involved. Being in college can be about so much more than just getting a degree for what’s next.”

5. Build a Network

Hang out with all kinds of people. Find your niches, but don’t limit yourself. That weird guy may be up to something fantastic. It’s great to build a network of diverse communities. Network extensively through social media and make genuine connections. Mike Henry, Sr. suggests, “select friends carefully.”

“Grow your leadership skills in the place that sparks your passion – opportunities are everywhere. If you don’t feel the click, keep exploring until you do.”

6. Learn Extra

Attend the free lectures. Take crazy courses unrelated to your major. Listen with your heart. Take a full course load. Stay up late talking with your friends about what they are learning. Donald George suggests, “develop a variety of leadership skills and apply the most appropriate approach to fit that specific situation.”

7. Find Mentors

Invest in getting to know your professors. I have a few lifelong mentors (now friends) that began as professors. Help them with their research. Drink coffee with them. You will be amazed at the opportunities that can emerge. Also find mentors in the community and in areas of interest. Connect with mentors across all walks of life.

“Find leaders you look up to and ask them to mentor you. Serve on their teams so as to watch, observe, and learn. Work hard, build good relationships, and after your studies are done, volunteer your heart out.”

8. Learn Think, Write and Speak

Take classes that challenge you to organize and articulate your point of view. Take lots of writing and speaking classes. Consider an improv or other theater class. Get really comfortable in front of people. If you hate public speaking, keep taking classes until you don’t.

9. Work Hard

Dan McCarthy shared a combination of quotes from Chuck Yeager and Vince Lombardi: “There’s no such thing as a natural-born leader. All great leaders got that way from hard work, not from some endowed gift. Thank goodness. Don’t cheat yourself with the easy way out. Or as Pop Pop says:

“I still endorse the advice from the talk “What college is and what it isn’t ” I heard in my senior year of high school in 1959 from the vice president of Rensselaer Polytechnic.
His point: you need to have a goal that motivates you, and apply yourself passionately in pursuing the goal. It does not matter if you change your goal later on, you probably will, several times. What matters is that you do the best you can with what you are working toward at any given time. I think that advice holds up, in college and after. The connection to leadership? If you know where you are going and give it your all, you will find folks will follow your lead.”

@theteapixie summarizes it well.

@LetsGrowLeaders Get involved. Be an example worth emulating. Be engaged. Be interested. Be active. Make face-2-face happen.”

 Know someone graduating and headed to college? A Free Subscription to Let’s Grow Leaders makes a wonderful gift for Grads.. and Dads)

Filed Under:   Developing Leadership In Children
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is an experienced executive, speaker, and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, training and organizational leadership. Her company, Let’s Grow Leaders, helps companies gain a competitive edge by building extraordinary front-line teams. She was recently named to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of the marathon runner, and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

Eric Dingler   |   24 May 2013   |   Reply

All great advice. I love the idea of gifting a subscription to LetsGrowLeaders.com. I have 30 college students moving into camp over the next couple weeks.

The advice I would add….don’t believe the myth “College can be some of the best years of your life.” It’s not a stop, break or detour from your parents home into the “real” world. It’s your real world. What you do there goes with you forever. Use wisdom in decision making. You are laying a foundation for the best years of your life. Besides, re-read the 9 subheadings above: the advice is timeless…it’s true for after college as well. This is life-long advice. Never stop working hard to make next year the best year of your life while living the best year of your life so far. Never stop….never give up on you.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 May 2013   |   Reply

Eric, I was hoping you would add your advice to the mix. Thank you for all the important work you do growing young leaders. Namaste.

Steve Borek   |   24 May 2013   |   Reply

My daughter’s a leader. I tell her this all the time. Though, for some reason, I can tell she doesn’t fully embrace the title. She’s a humble leader. They’re the best.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 May 2013   |   Reply

Steve, confident, humility. So important.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   25 May 2013   |   Reply

Karin,

What attracts the bee to flowers? Color and smell are the two main factors.
I do not know if I equate to a bee, but surely your writing blossoms with fragrance that is colored with experience.
Why ? Just let me quote from the above “Learn to lead and lead to learn”. I love the simplicity with which you wrote this loop.
Now, the question- I understand from this post that leadership is a skill that can be learned. Some people insist that a person is either a born leader or not. So, all training pertinent to leadership is waste of time, money and effort.
I just care to read your opinion.

letsgrowleaders   |   25 May 2013   |   Reply

Ali, Thank you. I fall firmly in the camp that everyone can become better at leadership. Just like anything else it comes more naturally to some than others. Some are also more motivated toward leadership than others. However, you never know when life will throw you a curve ball, and you will have a stronger desire to lead.

In today’s connected world, I am not sure “if leaders are born or made” is the relevant question. We can all have a platform. The bigger question is, will be ready to use it For more see… http://letsgrowleaders.com/2012/12/04/just-in-case-leadership-development/

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   25 May 2013   |   Reply

Thanks, Karin. I was voicing opinions from others. Personally, I belong to your camp.

Frank Hazzard   |   26 May 2013   |   Reply

Congratulations to graduates Ben, my son, Elliot and all of the other present and future leaders. I appreciated your list of opportunities where college students can lead. Although I believe that leadership can be honed and developed in anyone, I also believe that truly gifted leaders have the gift from birth. Birds sing, bees buzz and leaders lead, including in college.

letsgrowleaders   |   27 May 2013   |   Reply

Frank, great to see you here, and for expanding the conversation. My view, leadership may come more naturally for some than others, but I worry about folks deciding at 18 that they are “not a leader.” I’ve seen some beautiful blossoming over the years. With that said, leadership is just one gift of many vital talents that can be honed. We need great inventors, engineers, creative minds, athletes…

I am also grateful for communities that invest in development. There was some beautiful leadership coaching happening on our churches memorial day camping trip this year…while organizing pancakes, while on the soccer field… Leaders of all ages growing from where they are. Fun to watch.