Guest post by Omékongo Dibinga
“Leadership ain’t for the lame, don’t take it in vain
Time to rethink your position, understand why you came.”
I often recite these two lines from a poem I wrote on leadership when I speak to student leaders around the world. I share this quote to underscore two points: First, leadership is not for everyone. Though everyone can be a leader, leadership is a calling that few people answer and, therefore, it must be carefully considered. Second, leaders must always be thinking about why they chose to be a leader, and whether they still have the capacity or even the desire to lead.
I challenge student leaders to jump headfirst into whatever challenges their schools are facing. Regardless of the issues, I advocate four simple steps that student leaders can implement to help them better navigate these issues. These four principles—Give, Release, Overcome, and Win—come from my book G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness!: 10 Steps to Living Your Best Life.
First, students must review the quality and quantity of their giving. Their, in many cases, elected position means they must remember that they represent their constituents, even those who did not vote for them. To that end, encourage your student leaders to be giving of their attention to all students in their school. Emphasize that student leaders need to be able to do more listening than talking to really understand what is transpiring in their school, and they must be willing to give of their time to lead the effort toward effective change. As the old adage goes, we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in proportion.
Student leaders need to let go of any hatred (or even a simple bias) they may have toward certain groups. I study leadership across the globe, and I’ve examined the practices of leaders including CEOs and national leaders. I have seen situations where someone becomes a CEO and actively works to undermine particular departments they simply do not like. I have seen someone become president of a country and exact revenge on the ethnic group they view as their oppressor. I encourage student leaders to practice forgiveness and inclusivity.
Once students release negative biases, they can work toward a second step of “release”—releasing people around them who no longer represent where they want to go as a leader. Student leaders must associate themselves with people who represent not where they are, but where they want to go.
Student leaders must overcome their fears, as this feeling keeps people from thinking clearly. Students must be guided by their goals and their vision—not their anxieties. One cannot serve effectively if they are governed by worry or distress. Fear can keep students from even attempting to start a program because they’re concerned about what people will think.
Student leaders must acknowledge the fear they may feel, but focus more on what is right. Leadership can be a daunting task, but it is a task worth pursuing if student leaders are truly interested in serving their communities.
Student leaders must believe they will win. While this is easy to say and embrace in theory, students will likely need to be reminded that some of the changes they seek in their school may not occur during their tenure as a student leader. In this age of instant gratification, student leaders must practice patience; change does not happen overnight. Some Native American communities believe that they should consider how their actions will affect people in seven generations, and that’s the kind of mindset strong leaders should adopt.
At the end of the day, if students look at how they give, release, overcome, and win, they can become effective leaders for their school community. Encourage your students to use these four steps to evaluate their position in leadership; they will better understand the serious job they have as leaders in their school. Whether it is the National Honor Society or student council or any other form of leadership, it comes with the unwritten understanding that students realize the great responsibility of the leadership roles they have undertaken.
As advisers, you can be the ones who help them along with this process. Your experiences as educators and leaders in your own environments can greatly aid students in their development. Consider taking your group to a conference (like a LEAD Conference) to get student leaders immersed in national discussions and to help empower them to be strong leaders. I fully believe that with your guidance, our student leaders of today can continue on their path to the greatness that we know is inside of them.
Omékongo Dibinga, PhD, is a motivational speaker, author, rapper, and professor of cross-cultural communication at American University in Washington, D.C. He conducts training for teachers as well as students on issues related to cultural competency, diversity, and leadership.