Nugget #3 Leaders Teach Members How to Lead

Nugget# 3: Leaders Teach Members How to Lead

In my last Nugget article, I talked about student leaders taking the time to know their members. When the leaders take the time to learn the skills, interests, and abilities of their members, they are better positioned to help them engage and find value serving the organization. Along these same lines, the leader(s) has responsibility for helping each member understand and successfully execute their role within the organization.

After the leader(s) of the club has helped a member find the role most conducive to their individualized needs, they must work as a team to execute the responsibilities of the role well. This does not mean that the leader is to do the work assigned to the member. It means that the leader (i.e., the entire E-Board) work as a team to ensure that each member is properly trained on their role, given assistance to execute their role, and given the resources needed to be successful. For example, if a member becomes the programming sub-committee chair they should not be left to figure out the position on their own. There needs to be a operation or logistical standard that is communicated to each committee chair. The standard should include clear instructions on what is expected of them as chair-leaders. Those expectations may include submitting a 1-page plan of action after each program denoting the pros/cons or strengths/weaknesses of the program, subcommittee minutes, or an end-of-year summary report.

Next, the members of the E-Board should work together to provide training to committee chairs. That training can include how to develop a shared vision with your team, how and when to reserve rooms, when to order food, procedures and forms for bringing and paying guests to campus. Armed with this information, the subcommittee chair will become responsible for leading and engaging their team members in the execution of the committee work. If there are not enough committee members, the club leader and committee chair(s) can work together to develop a strategy to recruit and train new members.

It is important to note here that it should not matter if an active committee member is not able to attend a regular club meeting. As long as they are working, they should be considered an active member of the club. Many of my former student leaders believed that if a member did not attend the general club meeting then they were not active; but this is not always possible with students who are non-traditional, commuting, or who have busy academic schedules. If student leaders want to increase student engagement and involvement, then they must be strategic and considerate in creating opportunities for those students. That is what leaders do! However, if the leader is focused on doing all the detailed and day to day work themselves, then they miss this opportunity to serve the members and club more broadly.

How are you leading? Are you doing the detailed work or are you providing bigger picture opportunities for your members? Are you taking all the shine, when you could be sharing it?

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My Journey to Leadership as a Student of Color at a PWI, Part III

Part III

My initial response after being corrected by my peers was to do all the work Cynthia Fulfordmyself. I told myself that I did not need the stress of being criticized when I had done my part. I had delegated properly. I had also followed-up with the member in a timely manner. I decided to begin planning events that I wanted to see. I hired speakers to teach us about our cultural contribution in history, but was one of only a handful that attended those events. The social events were better attended. For example, I hired a local African American Dance Troupe to teach us African Dances and worked with others to plan a Midnight Bowling trip.

Soon, however, I grew tired. I was focusing more on diversity programming and my grades began to suffer. I had to get refocused. The programming events that we offered was necessary for our own cultural development, as well as weekend activities since most of us were without a vehicle. However, I had to rethink how I was leading. The fear of failure or being embarrassed by poor programming initially tried to consume me. Similar to many student or young leaders, I thought, if I am the leader of this organization poor programming, will reflect on me. My mentors taught me that was not the case. In fact, one faculty mentor told me that no one would remember any student failures, because they are expected. However, you will be remembered for doing something great!

My two greatest accomplishments as an undergraduate student were the founding of the Black Student Union (BSU) and hosting the college’s first NPHC (Black Greek) Step Show with over 400 diverse students from colleges and universities in the greater Pittsburgh/West Virginia area. The BSU represented a commitment by the college to support the racial and cultural development of the African American Students. The college leadership was taking their first step in acknowledging that we mattered to the college and the student body. The Step Show represented my desire to bring an African American cultural Greek event to campus for the student body to enjoy.

The BSU came into existence because I was taught the value of win-win arguments and negotiations. An upper class black male student who had been trying to get a BSU on campus for years approached me. He and two other Black male students had been working on developing a constitution, but felt that they had reached a roadblock with administration. However, they felt that I had the social capital with administration to make this happened and wanted me to make it happen. Initially, I was reluctant because it was time for someone else to have the opportunity to be a campus leader. I offered to assist in anyway I could, but lost the argument because the founding of this group was just as important to me as it was to others. I thought these gentlemen would help me make this happen, but they found all kind of reasons to not have the availability to help. I was on my own.

What happened next was the beginning of my journey and love for being and teaching leadership to others.

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Nugget# 2: Are Your Club Members Apathetic or Underutilized?

Nugget# 2: Club Members Apathetic or Underutilized?

As a student leader, have you ever thought that the members of your club were apathetic; or that “if you wanted it done right, you would have to do it yourself”? It would not be an exaggeration to tell you that these are the two most common statements that I have heard from student leaders. These statements tend to be immediately followed by a request for help to motivate and better utilize their members. Let me share with you some ways to look at these phrases and how they can be indicative of your leadership style, more than the club member. I hope these thoughts will help you to shift how you think about and experience being a leader.

The first question I ask student leaders is why do you think members are apathetic. The typical answer leans toward the factual definition of apathy as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. However, the next set of questions focus on metacognition and how can better understand how they lead. The answers to these questions can help a student rethink how they are leading. Here are a few of the questions I ask the student leader concerning apathy:

  • How many students are on your membership roster?
  • How many of these members do you know personally?
  • Do you have subcommittees?
  • How many members are on a subcommittee?
  • How many of them attend your meetings (weekly, biweekly, monthly)?
  • What role can members play if they cannot attend a regular meeting?
  • Who makes the plans for the club members and officers, or officers only?

After asking and receiving answers to these questions, I am better equipped to provide specific insight to the student leader on how to lead more effectively. Utilizing some minor leadership technique tweaks, I can help student leader turn their organization into one of the most powerful and influential on campus. However, the leader will have to give up their pride and any self-centered need for self-recognition to help their members be more engaged.

When I hear student leaders proudly exclaim, “if you wanted it done right, you would have to do it yourself,” then I get the sense that this student may be controlling, a perfectionist, not a good communicator, or interested in building their resume with a title. A few of the questions that I ask the student leader who makes this statement include:

  • Do people perceive you as bossy, controlling or too demanding?
  • Do you see failure or mistakes within the organization as a reflection on you personally?
  • Do you know how to delegate? Explain your process to me.
  • Do you personally know the skill sets and strengths of your members?

Simply taking the time to care about your club members as individuals and their interest in being in this club can help you serve them more effectively. The more you serve the developmental needs of your members, the more they will serve you and the organization. This small change will increase group engagement and productivity for your organization.

At the end of the day, your members may not be apathetic or at all. They may feel ignored and when a person does not feel you are listening, they may shut down, become unmotivated, complain, or even sabotage your efforts. So, take the time to learn your “staff” and how they can best serve the club or organization. This is step one in helping members find their place within the club or organization. You will see more productivity. No one will remember if you fail, but everyone will remember how you made them feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

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Nugget#1 What Makes a Good Leader

Nugget#1 -Whats Makes a Good Leader

Over the years, some of the best student leaders that I engaged with were those who cared deeply about their club’s purpose and mission, and those who were committed to the leadership development of their peers.

It is easy for students to take on a leadership position and get a title to build their resume, but leadership is so much more than that. As a leader you should see yourself as the building contractor or the person responsible for implementing the design given by the architect. In the case of clubs and organizations, the leader’s` responsibility is to implement the plans of the membership developed as a shared vision. The shared vision for the year is developed in partnership between the E-Board and the members who all have a vested interest in the organization. Members want to be a part of the planning and program design, but many times the members are left out of the vision creation and are expected to implement a vision created by the leader or E-Board members.

A good rule of thumb for leaders to remember leading others is that people join clubs and organizations because they want to participate. They may join because they believe in the mission/vision and value of the organization (e.g., Black Student Union, LGBT-Ally group, Muslim Student Association) or they want to network with people with similar values and interests. They may also join as a means for sharing their skills and strengths with the organization (e.g., organizer, artist, accounting) or for developing their skills (e.g., public speaking, writing, debating). Everyone has an opportunity to build their resume in this process.

No matter the reason, people join organizations for a reason. A good leader or team of leaders (ergo the E-Board) will make it a point to learn from each member the reason they joined, which skill sets they have to offer or which skills they want to develop, and how much time they have to contribute. Armed with this information, the leadership is more equipped to help members find their place in the organization and are better positioned to lead their organization to great success, without doing the work meant for the members.

My Journey to Leadership as a Student of Color at a PWI, Part II

Cynthia FulfordAs students of color, we were clearly displeased with the campus environment to which we arrived. It was set up, as most American systems that cater to the white cultural diaspora. In other words, it was set up in a way that would benefit my white peers more. It did not take long for us to start complained among ourselves about the issue. However, only a few of us took the scary risk of challenging the administrators to create a more welcoming environment for us. Of the total 1100 enrolled students, the incoming black student class was a total of 13 (5 women, 8 men). There were about another 10-ish upper-class black students to help acclimate us to the environment.

One of the first things that my class of 5 Black women and 2 other upper-class women did was make a commitment to be a support to each other. When we learned there were going to be 10 new Black women coming to campus the following year, we created a group called BWOC (Black Women of Class, eventually Class and Culture) to welcome them. It was our informal version of a sorority group. Using a script based on a group I “pledged” in high school, we made modifications to create a 1-week process that would encourage the new class of Black women to be a support to each other. We would also serve as Big Sisters to the women in a fashion similar, but different from the four NPC sorority groups on campus. There were some bumps in the road with Administration not approving our informal group, but we persisted. The group was a success for at least two years after I graduated. Many of us continue to remain close as alumnae of the college.

This lead to some of the young men starting their own group 2 years later. However, both groups were a step toward creating our own safe space on a campus that clearly had not done so.

There was a club on campus called Cultural Awareness, Support and Enrichment group (CASE) that was supposed to be the organization for all underrepresented groups. At that time it was primarily Black students and a few women. We did our best to let this group serve our purpose.

I was elected president of CASE and did my best to be a good leader. You can guess, with no leadership background, I had a huge learning curve. We had some great successes as a group, but I will tell you I made the most consistent error that student leaders make. I ended up doing most of the work. I had believed the generally accepted clichés (ergo lies) that my peers were “apathetic” and that “if you wanted anything done, you had to do it yourself”. That is a LIE and if you find yourself saying that as a leader, you must rethink how you lead.

I will never forget the time that the three upper-class students who mentored us the most closely took me into the faculty dining room, the space we sometimes met in as CASE, and laid into me. One of the students in the room had agreed to take the leadership on a subcommittee, but did not come through. We had 2 or 3 days left and the work wasn’t done. So I did it. I did not want to be “embarrassed”. Well, needless to say, I got told off for not trusting the person to do the work. I was told that I was “being impatient”, but I knew the truth. I never told them, but I was hurt. Actually, I was more angry and livid. How dare they gang up on me? I had done the right thing by delegating and following up to meet the deadline.

But what I did next, was that a smart move? ……Find out what happened in the next installment.

For more information on how to secure me for speaking or leadership training opportunities, send an email to me at

My Journey to Leadership as a Student of Color at a PWI

Cynthia FulfordI remember when I was a college bound student in one of the TRIO programs, I had an awesome mentor who encouraged me to read as much as I could on what it meant to be Black in America. He told me that I needed to understand my history, so that I would be prepared to confidently stand up for what was right when the time came.  He assured me that that time was coming and I needed to be ready. He gave me books to read by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a prolific writer on educating African American males and children. He told me about African American Women leaders such as bell hooks, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Marian Edelman Wright and more. The more he shared on the Black man’s contribution to History, the more I learned that I would have to be responsible for my own learning and development on any topic.

Had he not encouraged me to read these particular types of books, I may not have been prepared for the journey that most, if not all, African-American (and other “minoritized”) students would take on college campuses. In fact, I remember someone jokingly saying, “If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.” I interpreted that to mean any ignorance and resulting consequences would be our own fault and undoing. I didn’t know it then, but that “joke” would spark a fire in me to read, share that information with those who won’t read and model this behavior for others to mimic or adopt.

Interestingly, I would devour books of all genres. I read autobiographies, biographies, self-help, African-American history, leadership books and the Bible. When I got to campus I even read the student and club handbooks (which saved me many times). I read it all. This thirst for knowledge, while contributing to my social awkwardness, also exposed me to “hidden” knowledge that helped me strategically survive four (4) years in an predominantly white institution that had two black professionals on campus, numerous black staff who were in food service and maintenance (thank God for their support), no black faculty, and one cultural awareness group, that didn’t fully serve our needs.

It was tough being in an environment where it was rumored to have a student chapter of the Ku Klux Klan on campus in one of the fraternity houses; where a professor could openly called me ignorant without repercussion; where students called me the N-word and told me that I was only admitted because of my skin color. This was a campus where campus programs and events were planned without the racial or cultural developmental interests of the students of color or students in general. Yet, not only did I survive that campus, I thrived on that campus. I have as many fond memories of my Alma Mater and believe the school is better because of my contribution as a student leader.

Due to the fact that I have a mother who was an educational and political activist, I was encouraged and pushed to get an education and make a difference. Equipped with this foundation and background, I knew that my peers and I were not being holistically educated. I decided that if change were going to happen, I would have to lead it.

Read more on my early leadership journey in the next installment…

For more information on how to secure me for speaking or leadership training opportunities, send an email to me at

Are you a newly elected college student leader?

Every year, matriculating college students are elected to leadership positions during the Spring semester. Unfortunately, many of them are elected without a clear understanding of how to effectively lead their peers or their organizations. There are many reasons why this lack of understanding exists.

Some reasons include:

1. The departing leaders didn’t model good leadership, so there is nothing for the new leaders to mimic.
2. There wasn’t any short or long term strategic plan for the new leaders to use as a roadmap.
3. There are no minutes or well written records to help the current leaders understand where the organization has been and where they need to take it.

If this is your situation and you find yourself nervous (or even afraid) on how you are going to be a good leader, don’t worry. Here are a few tips to help you create a leadership development training program for yourself this summer.

1. If you don’t already know, go online and take free assessment tests on your communication style, your leadership style, and your personality preferences. These tools are just a guide to help you better understand how you will engage with your peers when school starts.

2. Gather as much information as you can from the club/organization adviser, former student leaders, members, campus administrators and alumni of the club/school and gain a good understanding of the history of the group. Equipped with this information, from past and present leaders, advisers and students, you are better prepared to draft a roadmap for how you would like to lead the group on its journey into the future.

3. Commit to reading as many leadership books and articles that are relevant to your age group. There are many, but three of my favorite books to help introduce leadership principles and responsibilities to students include 1) 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and 2) Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, and 3) Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students by Marcy Levy Shankman and Scott J. Allen. Of course, I can recommend many other books, but I have found these books easy to read and necessary for helping students understand good leadership principles (relationship over dictatorship) and how to understand themselves, in relation to effectively leading others.

4. Finally and most importantly, start getting over yourself. Yeah, I said it, GET OVER YOURSELF! Being a leader is hard work and requires you to be a servant to the members of your group. When you serve them, they will serve you. When you dictate, they will leave you to do all the work yourself, talk about you, and make excuses for not being involved. It’s important that you clearly understand that if you intend to do all the work, then you are not intending to be a leader. Leaders are actually leaders of leaders and hold primary responsibility for seeing the big picture and helping member see how they can contribute to that big picture, but every little thing they do to contribute. The leaders coordinate the effort, keep everyone on time, encourage, teach, and model the way.

Now, leader of leaders….train them up! LEAD members to success and everyone succeeds. Dictate the outcome and the process and everyone loses.

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Ways of Creating Sustainable Education Programs for Students-Part III

Once you and your team have identified the shared vision and worked out the details in a stakeholder strategy session, the next step is to outline the action for achieving those strategies and to set up an implementation timeline.  Sometimes, in the rush to get a program implemented, planners will skip over this essential step.  However, this is the step where vision meets intentionality.  It is also the space where fear, uncertainty and the management of change can be successfully addressed.  Since we are talking about creating educational programs for students, let us look more closely at the value of this step from a student organization perspective.

As the new SGA advisor, I inherited a governance board where the leaders hosted events out of tradition and habit, but without vision or intentionality.  The other advisor and I met with the Executive Board (E-board) for a series of strategy sessions on the purpose of SGA and the institutional mission of student engagement and the development of student leaders.  From those discussions, we were able to outline a SGA student engagement strategy for the campus.  This strategy included the redesign and implementation of a stronger governance structure that increased student voice, ongoing leadership training for and by the students, and a realignment of SGA resource to better support student engagement on campus and conference participation off campus.

Although I participated in this process many times with colleagues, it was not until I worked with students on this massive project that I began to truly understand the value of outlining goals and creating an implementation timeline.  This was the first time these students had ever participated in a major strategic planning initiative and they expressed their unease in managing the student reaction to change.

In order to quell their concerns and put the ownership back on them, I coached students into understanding that outlining the action steps with a comfortably paced implementation timeline would help them feel less overwhelmed and the student body less resistant to the change.

In the first stages of communicating this vision to the student body and the initial pushback, this timeline became invaluable to the SGA leaders because they were able to effectively communicate the new strategic plan to the students they served.  The result of this process was a dramatic increase in student attendance at weekly SGA meetings (from spring semester attendance of nine students to fall attendance of 30-50 students per meeting) and an increased confidence by students that their concerns and suggestions for campus-wide improvements were going to be heard.

In the next article, I will discuss how to implement a comprehensive assessment process that is aligned with the programmatic goals and that can be used for evidence-based programmatic improvements.

Ways of Creating Sustainable Educational Programs for Students- Part II


snailshellDiversify the Stakeholders Around the Table

Have you ever participated in a program, initiative or event and quickly realized that it could have been more inclusive or planned better? I have found that even when we have a goal of creating an inclusive campus environment, we often fail because we leave stakeholders out of the conversations. For example, have you examined your planning group to ensure representation of varied voices are around the table? How often have you learned that you held an event on a Saturday because unwittingly, you excluded devoted members of religions that practice their Sabbath on a Saturday? Have you participated in the design of a new building and failed to create a unisex bathroom space for a student born sexually ambiguous because it never occurred to you that these students exist? These are just two of many dilemmas that campus administrators struggle to answer every day, but could do better if they were more intentional about who was sitting around the table.


While program planners are not able to host events where every group can attend or implement initiatives that serve every student in every case, sincere efforts must be made to implement opportunities that do not exclude students because of their group affiliations. We want to alleviate a backlash or concerns by groups of people when planning campus initiatives, so we need to be intentional about who we have around the table. As campus administrators, the more we are able to engage the diversity of voices on our campuses, the better our end programs are and the more likely our students will be prepared to lead in this increasingly diverse society.


When we exclude diverse voices, we are teaching students that it is okay to exclude; however, this is not what we want our future leaders of America to learn or believe. If we want better social systems in our society, then we must model working with diverse others for our students. In Part I of this series, I shared the importance of finding our mutual or shared goal. However, even as we can agree on the goal, we must also provide opportunities for a variety of stakeholders to be part of process that leads to that end. Be aware that with the inclusion of more voices, the planning process may take a little longer and may require some delicate facilitation, but the end results are more likely to be strong, sustainable and have a positive impact (I’ll talk more about the timeline in Part III)


I like to think of it this way: When we include diverse groups, particularly students on committees, they can learn a number of skills including how to negotiate, manage conflict, and build their professional network or their confidence. These leadership qualities can position them for greater leadership roles in our society. More importantly, these same students can become influential alumni, financial supporters of our institutions, and the best recruiters of prospective students.


We don’t always know where our students will end up, but if we include them in the planning process and model proper attitudes, skills and techniques of inclusion, then when they become powerful educators, lawyers, investors, politicians and more, then chances are likely that they will be inclusive and make similar decisions that are sustainable over the long term and that benefit our society.


Ways of Creating Sustainable Educational Programs for Students-Part I

snailshellI have had the awesome pleasure of leaving a legacy of programs at past institutions of higher education. When discussing my process with a new professional in the field, I found myself excited at sharing the details of how I have created sustainable programs that continue to exist at campuses where I have been employed. I hope that you will find this information useful as you develop your own educational programs.

In this five part series, I will share with you 1) The importance of starting with a mindset that you are creating a legacy program; 2) How stakeholders help create a structurally strong foundation; 3) Why outlining your end goals and creating a timeline will be invaluable to your process; 4) Why you should design the program around these goals; and 5) How to use the program design to create a comprehensive assessment process and implement continuous improvements.

Start with the mindset and philosophy that your goal is to create a legacy program. As a leader, your primary goal should be to leave a legacy. If we start with the mindset of helping students, then no matter how we feel about our leaders, we focus on ways to serve and develop students. If you have the right mindset, then you are not likely to create programs for your own honor and promotion. I may not have received any real credit or a campus reward or acknowledgement for any number of programs that I created at former campuses, but I take pride in knowing that these programs and initiatives continue to exist and benefit students who I may never meet. If we want students to be prepared to effectively lead in our increasingly diverse society, then we need to create programs that are inclusive, practical, and experiential. But this all starts with the right mindset.

I have worked on campuses where staff felt that senior leaders and department heads lacked knowledge, lacked vision, didn’t support staff, and even used them as a scapegoat for others’ mistakes. Despite these real factors, we are in the business of serving students. When we start with the right mindset, we are well positioned to do our best to work around the political and bureaucratic quandaries that can hijack our ability to effectively serve students.

I encourage new professionals that if you want to exhibit good leadership skills and leave a legacy, then plan to leave the institution stronger than when you arrived. Prepare a plan of action that is solid and inclusive for stakeholders in every part of the institution, increasing the likelihood of them buying in and supporting the vision.

Although, the details have changed slightly, check out three programs I created in collaboration with students, faculty and staff at Syracuse University. The Diversity Business Summit was a collaboration with students in the African-American Male Congress who wanted more internship opportunities with major companies and corporate recruiters who wanted to hire more diverse students. We started with a strong foundation and created developmental opportunities for both the students and the corporate recruiters. A number of university offices have graciously supported this program since its founding.

Another great program that was started under the premise of bringing both the college and Greater Syracuse communities together was the Gospel Explosion. It has since expanded to something greater than I even imagined, but both communities look forward to this program every year. An inclusive desire and mindset helped set these programs up for success.

In Part II, I will discuss why stakeholders are instrumental to developing a structurally strong foundation for the legacy program.