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.

For more information on this topic and other Leadership Training workshops send an email to

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.