I have often talked about the importance of developing leaders in college. In fact, it is one of the overarching objectives of a college education -- preparing the leaders of the future. At FM, we have had many discussions about leadership and how we need to provide students the opportunity to practice it. It is impossible to cover all, or even most, of the aspects of leadership in such a short article; however, I'll try to hit some of the highlights.
What is leadership? Often, people believe that someone is a "born leader" or that leadership is some personality trait that is part of one's very being. However, leadership can be developed. There have been many essays, articles, and books written about the theories of leadership.
First and foremost, leadership is getting people to do something; therefore, it could be argued that if you have followers, and they are getting done what you want done, you are a leader. However, that very simple definition is inadequate for today's leader.
Leaders provide a vision. They see an organization, company, or community not as it is, but as it could be. Equally as important, leaders can articulate that vision in a way that others can see it too, and want to make it happen. Leaders create an environment in which every person feels that their contribution is important. They create a culture where people can share ideas freely and those ideas are expressed in order to further the progress toward the vision.
Leaders do not have to be "in charge." Rather, they welcome the opinions of others and foster open discussion. If done right, the discussion will create a better outcome through a collection of ideas and actions. If not done right, those different opinions can just obscure the vision and distract from progress.
Leadership is also about people, not things. A good leader knows that it takes people, working together, to accomplish any goal. Teaching, communicating, supporting and celebrating with people are key to leadership. People matter, a good leader never forgets that fact or puts his/her own ego ahead of people.
Good leaders demonstrate integrity. Few people will truly follow a leader that they cannot trust. If a leader says one thing and does another, or changes his/her story based on who is in the room, all credibility is lost. If you don't have the trust of those with whom you work, you cannot lead.
So how do we teach students to be leaders? There are several ways that students practice leadership on campus. First, they can get involved in student government. Such involvement can teach students the democratic process, the value of debate, and the opportunity to create real change in an organization. Second, students can demonstrate leadership within a variety of clubs on campus. Each club has a purpose and each club also has a community service component. This is an opportunity to do something meaningful that assists our community.
Students also practice leadership in group activities and projects for classes. They have to organize, prioritize, and work together to accomplish the goal of completing the project by its due date. Some student practice leadership through athletics. Serving on a team can develop a number of skills needed by good leaders. All of these opportunities are supervised by faculty who promote leadership.
Leadership is critical to the development of a community or organization. Colleges, like Fulton-Montgomery Community College, strive to prepare students not only to work, but to lead.