Forum: Lessons in leadership

Last week when working with a group of students in the Emerging Leaders Program, I posed them a challenge: Define leadership. The first words out of their mouths were the names of presidents, prime ministers, professors and patriots. I said, Wait, hold on a minute, and reminded them that the words leadership and leader are not necessarily the same thing. Personally, I have adopted a belief and process by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner – leading experts in student-leadership – that leadership is an art, a performing art and the instrument is the self. By the end of the session the group came up with a definition of the art of leadership for themselves. They came to define leadership as the ability to act as a facilitator to motivate and empower a group of individuals with respect, persistence and heart to achieve a common goal.

Based on their definition, these students discovered that leadership is all about relationships. As students – whether those in leadership positions, active members in our community or those seeking to affect positive change – I am challenging all of us to be part of this relationship and embrace Kouzes and Posner’s leadership process.

Challenge the Process. Yesterday my friend was complaining that he waited 23 minutes in the Starbucks line at J Street. I think we all agree that this is ridiculous. However, I have yet to see a student take some risks, take a stand and make solutions happen. Let’s do it.

Inspire a Shared Vision. Last spring when training as a Colonial Cabinet member, my supervisors – also students – inspired me by sharing their vision for CI. They said that that there are two rules at CI: First, there are no problems, and second, the sun always shines. Once they shared their vision, I was motivated to ensure that entering students had the greatest CI experience possible, where any challenges that did occur would be translated into a positive learning experience. We can all follow this model. Let’s do it.

Enabling Others to Act. By participating in the National Leadership Series, a workshop series sponsored by the Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement and Development Center, or LEAD, at GW, we can embrace this concept. By fostering collaboration, building relationships with other student leaders and enriching personal leadership skills, we can strengthen the relationships with the students with whom we interact. Let’s do it.

Modeling the Way. The GW community is calling for those in leadership positions and active participants to lead with integrity, to do the right thing. We first need to define our personal values and the values of our teams, groups and organizations. This way when faced with an upcoming ethical dilemma, no matter how small or big, we can set the example. Let’s do it.

Encourage the Heart. When developing GW-Opoly in the Student Association, I realized that mass-producing a board game is hard work and requires a team effort. I strove to recognize the individual contributions of the students, faculty and administrators involved and to celebrate the accomplishments of our team effort. Public praise, personal notes of thanks or even nominations to campus awards like Excellence in Student Life and the GW Award are ways we can all encourage the heart. Let’s do it.

Now that we understand the leadership process, we all need to engage ourselves in leadership. Attend a workshop or two in the National Leadership Series. Investigate all aspects of leadership theory and practice in our leadership library. Meet with a Peer Leadership mentor and discover the ways to find your niche at GW and in D.C. For more information on the above programs and services, take the first step toward meeting my leadership challenge and stop by The LEAD Center in suite 427 of the Marvin Center.
-The writer is the student coordinator of the Peer Leadership Mentor Program at the LEAD Center.

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