5 tips to make the most of your student leadership role
As we near the end of the year, many students will be preparing to take on leadership roles in their school next year. There will also be students dealing with the disappointment of not being chosen as a leader. I reached out to my network to ask for advice from people who held leadership roles in school or have a unique perspective on the topic. Based on their feedback, I have compiled 5 tips for student leaders to make the most of their experience.
1. Collaborate with others
Sometimes as leaders, it’s easy to feel pressure to be prepared to handle every possible scenario. The truth is that leaders don’t need to know all the answers. The best leaders are great collaborators. Find others who share your passions and work together.
“Ask for help if you need it - this is not a sign of weakness but of a true leader”
Sarah Van Durme, former Merici College student
The most important skill for a leader to develop is their ability to listen and communicate. By getting input from your fellow students, then you will achieve a much better result overall.
“I also would encourage every young aspiring leader to understand the importance of good communication, curiosity and the power of networking. Combine the three and you’ll have a solid foundation for all you set out to achieve.”
Stephanie Shave, former St Margaret's School student
While it can be tempting to try and do everything ourselves, it is far better to share the responsibility with others. People will buy-in to your ideas a lot more if they are actively involved in the planning.
“Who else can you bring along the journey who has a similar passion? What skills and talents might you be lacking that someone else has? Build a team around you and then always celebrate their achievements and make it known (this celebration will be different for each of them, some people like a public spotlight, while others prefer a quiet acknowledgement).”
Michael Walter, former Whitefriars College student
2. Being a leader is about the little moments as well as the big ideas
I have seen this time and time again with new leaders (as well as experiencing it myself when in school). The ideas at the start are huge: End world poverty! Eradicate homelessness! Fix climate change! This passion is awesome, and dreaming big is really important. We must also recognise the opportunities to lead in the little moments: Sitting with lonely students at lunch time. Speaking out when your friends say mean things about another student. Helping your parents cook dinner. These are all valid examples of leadership, and a great way to set an example to younger students.
“Leadership is a way of being.”
Stephanie Livingstone, former Catholic Ladies' College student
When you have really big ideas, it is helpful to break them down into smaller chunks so that they are more approachable and less intimidating. This way you get to experience little wins along the way, and build momentum.
“Sometimes there's a temptation to think big, and come up with grand solutions that will change the world. This is great as it is sparking your imagination and propelling you forward. After coming up with this grand idea it is helpful to think about practical and pragmatic ways that you can work towards that goal.”
“If I could do it all again I think I would dedicate more time to teaching younger students that many small acts added together can change the world. The big picture is always made up of many small images.”
Joseph Romeo, former Whitefriars College student
3. Embrace your authentic leadership style
We are all unique with our own personal style of leadership. Sometimes when I was younger, I would see videos of tough, confident male leaders and wonder if I should act more like them. I soon learned that it was important for me to embrace my strengths and lead in a way that fit who I am.
“Student leadership is about recognising your own skills and vocations in leadership and developing them in a safe and supportive environment of school. You can truly develop your leadership style and skills in this way. Do not be afraid to challenge yourself and take risks but most importantly enjoy it. In a school you are supported so use that support to develop.”
Mark O’Dowd, former youth group leader
Modelling others is powerful, and it is important to choose people to model who are the kinds of leaders that you want to be. Trust your instincts and choose whose advice you take on board. Sometimes people have strong opinions with no experience to back them up. Let your values guide you and know your “why”.
“Be true to yourself - don’t change for the role or others”
Sarah Van Durme
“Don't worry about the perceptions of other people. Recognise earlier that student leadership is an opportunity for personal growth and as a way of showing gratitude to your school community.”
Lachlan Dent, State Youth Representative, St Vincent de Paul Queensland.
“I remember being so nervous when I went for School Captain, we had many ‘shortlist’ stages of speeches, votes and even an interview. I wasn’t the most academic, the fastest athlete or a constant prize winner but soon realised after elected, I didn’t need to be.
What I did note is being authentic had far more reach, response and relatability. I’ve found that people are drawn to your story (experiences) and ‘why’ more so than your resume.”
4. Lead with kindness and amplify the voices of others
Being in a leadership position is a privilege. In the words of Uncle Ben from Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As a leader, you have a wonderful opportunity to provide a platform for other people whose voices aren’t being heard. Rachel Enright expresses this beautifully:
“Don't worry about being in front of the microphone or under the spotlight. As a leader, you ARE the microphone: you go out and hear your peers speak and give volume and power to their voices and ideas; You ARE the spotlight: highlighting their concerns, ideas and brilliance. Let your self-consciousness fall away as you focus on them and the outcomes for them: What do you want them to remember from (insert experience here)?”
Rachel Enright (nee Khaw), former Catholic Ladies' College student
Shifting the emphasis to others is transformative. In doing so, it becomes less about the ego of the leader, and more about the needs of the community. Be the kind of leader that you would want if you were a regular team member. And most importantly, lead with kindness.
“Remember, no one forgets how you make them feel, so being kind and compassionate is something I value.”
5. Remember - you don’t need to wear a badge to be a leader!
When I was in year 9 I applied to be one of the year level leaders on the student representative council. When it was my turn to give a speech I became overcome with nerves and didn’t end up getting the role. I felt really disappointed that I had misrepresented myself and that the opportunity to lead came down to a popularity vote. When I put the word out about this blog, I received the following message from a wonderful leader I know called Indah. I am so impressed by Indah’s attitude and believe it’s an important message for all aspiring leaders to read:
“When I was in high school I applied for the role of Social Justice Captain. It was a role that I was very passionate about and that I really wanted. However I didn’t get it. I was a little bit disappointed but I realised that I didn’t need to be a captain to show how passionate I was about social justice.
What worked for me was the fact that I still got involved in social justice at school and I was able to be recognised as a leader without the badge. Looking back on it I am not sure if I would change anything because I felt that I had tried and was unsuccessful and I built my resilience from there.
Indah Johannes, former Our Lady of Sion College student
Remember to have fun and enjoy the experience. Many of the people that shared their experiences with me, spoke of how much they enjoyed their time as student leaders and how they still value the learnings as adults. One of the most fulfilling parts of the work we do at Yellow Arrow is the opportunity to mentor student leaders and provide frameworks and support for them through their role. Next year we are piloting a brand new program called Project Santiago, where we will journey with senior student leaders over the course of a full year. We will build a community of the participating students and teachers and support the design of unique student projects to benefit their community. For more information about Project Santiago, (or any of our leadership programs), get in touch.
Let’s keep the conversation and advice going in the comments. What advice would you give to a student entering their first leadership role? What have you valued from your leadership experiences? If you are about to enter a student leadership role, what are you excited/nervous about?
"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." John F. Kennedy