Character Traits of Student Leaders

[blockquote author=”Lao-Tzu” ]A leader is best when people barely know he exists, Not so good when people obey and acclaim him, Worse when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they will fail to honor you; Of a good leader, who talks little: When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, They will say, “We did this all ourselves.”[/blockquote]

Student leaders are no longer a luxury in our educational world, but a necessity. We count on these extraordinary young people to offer their time and energy in the ongoing growth and development of our programs; without them, much daily work simply would not be completed.

Students are usually eager to assume leadership roles, but are they capable of assuming the responsibilities that accompany the real leadership agenda? Do they truly understand the personal price of leadership? The selection process cannot be taken lightly, for the student leaders will often determine the attitude, the atmosphere, and the level of achievement for the entire organization; they are the pacesetters for every student in the class.

So many factors enter into this important choice. Are the candidates competent? Are they emotionally secure? Will they assume a leadership posture both in and out of the  rehearsal environment? Can they handle stress and pressure? Are they willing to make decisions that are not self-serving but focused on their followers? Do they accept criticism and learn from their mistakes? Are they selfless rather than selfish? Ultimately, will they serve as positive role models for each and every student? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are crucially important inquisitions, for it is unfair to everyone to assign leadership responsibilities to an individual who has not developed the level of maturity needed to assume the added responsibilities associated with productive leadership.

Over the years of teaching the skills and techniques of student leadership, I have observed so many students who are confident in their abilities and certain they can “do the job” and do it quite well; however, they have great difficulty turning hopes and visions into reality. The results are devastating to their followers, the program, and the perceived self-worth of the leader. In truth, everyone loses. How can we, as teachers, avoid this dilemma?

In our urgency to have our students become more responsible and productive (perhaps these are one in the same), we are constantly looking for those opportunities of growth that will allow them to experience the pathway to success. After all, our fundamental mission as educators is to prepare students for the rigors of adulthood. It is exciting and personally gratifying when we see students rise to the occasion, but the penalty of failure has a high price tag in terms of the emotional damage to a student’s self-concept. Unlike many other aspects of education, failure in student leadership means others feel the effects of the shortcoming. If a student leader does not accomplish the given task, it can (and often does) have a negative impact on all the followers, and the consequences can range from outward hostility to exclusion from the group. In extreme cases, the wounded student leaders will make a decision never to be put in a similar situation where they will be subjected to such personal pain.

Metaphorically, we do not pick a tomato from a garden until it is ripe, for it will be of no value to anyone. It is impossible to place the prematurely picked vegetable back on the mother plant. Likewise, a student leader who is not ready (unripe) will be incapable of surviving the pressure and stress of leadership if he or she has not grown to the necessary stage of leadership maturity. There is an art to the selection process, and veteran educators are careful to find the students who are:

Selfless

Watch for the students who are always taking the time to help those around them. You can quickly identify this important trait—consideration of others by simply observing student behavior before and after rehearsals.

Persistent

Tenacity is an attribute necessary for attaining excellence at any discipline. Many people will begin a new endeavor with a sense of positive enthusiasm, but you are interested in the students who “complete” their assigned responsibilities.

Consistent

Most student leaders are at a time in their lives when they are establishing their personal habits and their life values; they are truly deciding “who they are.” Dreams, goals, and desires can shift radically from one day to the next. Pinpoint the students who are predictable and demonstrate emotional stability, those who can “stay the course.”

Affable

It is often tempting to favor the student leader who is gifted, and this is certainly an important aspect of his or her qualifications; however, it is vital for the student leader to have a healthy rapport with the other students. Popularity aside, the chosen student leader must be recognized and respected by the majority of the group.

Honest

Slighting the truth is commonplace. The student who avoids the temptation to exaggerate or embellish the truth and is willing to accept the consequences that often accompany honesty is a rare commodity. Everyone will benefit from being in the presence of a person who demonstrates such personal integrity

Faithful and loyal

“United we stand, divided we fall.” This well-worn phrase is still classic advice for every leader. The students who are always tried-and-true loyalists are your best nominees for student leadership positions. At this stage of leadership, commitment to the group is mandatory, and any disagreements or issues should be dealt with behind closed doors and in strict confidentiality.

These six personality traits are only a starting point; however, they will establish a strong foundation for the selection and qualification of any student leader. We, as educators, must be sensitive to the overwhelming effects student leadership can have on the development of the individual. We are in a position to help our students create a sense of self-worth that will serve them throughout their lives. We can guide their efforts and energies to ensure a positive experience for all concerned. As their leaders, we have an immeasurable influence on their leadership for life.

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