How many times have we heard the phrase “You are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution”? In choosing our student leaders, it is vitally important to select exemplary role models who are solution-oriented, rather than problem-plagued.
Students who wish to serve in a leadership capacity must first understand that true leadership requires an individual to do more than his or her counterparts; it is about serving others. Student leaders are the doers, they are the people who roll up their sleeves and go to work.
Even after an extensive explanation of the personal and group expectations, I often wonder if the hopeful student leader really understands the level of commitment, dedication, patience, and personal sacrifice required. For those students who wish to take on the challenges of leadership, and for those teachers who are looking for the student who has the right leadership qualifications, review the following.
Focus on the solution, not the problem. A gifted leader will seek an objective / solution and then begin to move in the direction of the given goal, rather than dwelling on the current status and all the reasons the organization cannot reach the objective. This comes about by using a clear and concise blueprint of a solution-driven vs. a problem-driven plan of action.
The solution-driven leader:
Spotlights the strengths of the followers and emphasizes what is already working
Instead of quickly pointing out everything that is wrong, ineffective, inefficient, and preventing forward progress, the leader will first make a point to recognize the various aspects of the project (including the people) that give it credibility and make it worth the follower’s investment of time and energy. The benefit package must be obvious, or there will be no ownership of responsibility by the followers and, thus, no group cooperation and only lackluster participation.
Sets a stage of open communication and personal involvement
Too often we look for those we can blame for the present predicaments; such behavior can garner initial agreement and emotional approval, but it has nothing to do with solving the problem. It is, at best, a momentary “feel good” and rarely serves the group or the leader. This leader will create a safe, open forum of communication with everyone and listen to any and all suggestions in an effort to attain a better outcome; in turn, everyone begins to become more involved in the implementation of a plan that reflects the group’s thoughts and ideas.
Keeps everyone focused on the goal
We often sabotage ourselves by dwelling on the opposite of what we want. Noted philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thought.” If we spend our time thinking about why something will not work, we are leading ourselves to a predictable failure. A solution-driven leader will continue to communicate the desired goal to the members of the group; what the mind can conceive, the person can achieve. We must picture high-level achievement in our minds at all times and be realistic in the assessment of what it will take to reach the goal. This is one of the fundamental responsibilities of every student leader; focus the energy of the followers on the anticipated results.
Creates energy and enthusiasm
The best way a leader can create energy and enthusiasm for a group is to model positive energy and sincere enthusiasm. This does not necessarily mean assuming the role of a cheerleader or extending shallow, insincere compliments. It merely means demonstrating a genuine care for the people, the goal, and the welfare of everyone involved. A lethargic, negative leader will drain energy from any group. This leader will amplify the problems facing the organization; on the other hand, an enthusiastic, positive leader will infuse the group with the needed energy to move forward and discover the endless possibilities available as a result of group cooperation. The solution-driven leader understands the secret to all leadership, the one aspect over which he or she has complete control in every situation: the ability to choose one’s attitude at every moment of every day.
Creates an atmosphere conducive to effective and efficient problem solving while giving continuous renewal to everyone involved
Being a leader does not mean “having all the answers.” Young leaders often think they are responsible for every solution, answer, and resolution; such logic can result in frustration, confusion, and even delusion. A perceptive and effective leader will encourage an ongoing exchange of helpful ideas from those who are part of the group. Every suggestion will be met with genuine appreciation, and the communication will be used as an opportunity to confirm the value of the person involved. (If we inadvertently or purposefully reject someone’s suggestions, we stifle his or her creativity and construct a barrier preventing further communication.) Maintaining an open, honest, safe environment for group problem solving is seen by many as the most important contribution of any solution-driven leader.
Young people are often enamored by the “idea” of leadership and the personal benefits they perceive to be a part of the leadership position. Choose those who can comprehend the “reality” of leadership, those who are willing to go the extra mile on behalf of their peers. Choose those who understand that the key to quality is the collective work ethic of their followers.
A contributing editor at TBP.