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 cnfulford2009@gmail.com

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 cnfulford2009@gmail.com