The shelves of books on leadership at the bookstore or library take a variety of different approaches to the topic. Some may trumpet vague ideas about “synergizing paradigms” or they may offer simplistic concepts that are just as unhelpful. Certain characteristics on what being a good leader consists of may be agreed upon by many, such as displaying empathy and ambition, but when the focus is on the students in your classroom, certain specific characteristics can indicate the traits of a potentially good leader.
Trust is something that comes up repeatedly in discussions on the idea of leadership. If someone doesn’t inspire or deserve trust, no one will be willing to follow that person. One area to consider when evaluating someone’s leadership potential is how effective he or she would be in winning someone else’s trust. Would it be through setting a good example, by proving one’s self as a good decision maker or by being an effective communicator? Or all three? Here we’ll examine some of these characteristics and how they can demonstrate a student’s leadership abilities.
Student leadership qualities
Leadership in general can be defined a variety of different ways, but the following are some concrete factors for evaluating students on their abilities to take on leadership roles:
- Academics: Students’ grades may not represent everything about an individual, yet they’re a good indication of their devotion to school and that they take their education seriously, knowing the impact it can have on the rest of their life. Discipline, maturity and work ethic are all factors here when it comes to grades, and academics is a good way of knowing a student’s leadership potential.
- Connections with others: As simple as it might seem, observing how someone behaves not just among friends, but with other students or peers, will indicate their ability to be respectful, helpful, or assertive depending on the situation. Communication is a key factor here and may demonstrate how well someone can convey an idea to others. A student’s social skills, attitude, and self-esteem all play a part in how they interact with fellow students, teachers and adults. Leadership entails coordinating and working with others, and a good leader will be someone who can create a connection with others.
- Volunteering & community service: Grades and school activity are clearly things to weigh here, yet life outside the classroom is also important. Some students may already have experience doing volunteer work through scouting or a church group and encouraging those who have an interest in local volunteering may inspire a socially conscious student to embark on a way of developing some new skills and reaching a greater sense of community. If this student has already participated in local volunteer work, he or she might be open to the idea of taking on a new challenge, such as a volunteer abroad program to experience life in another country and broaden his or her horizons.
- Willingness to learn, and to learn from mistakes: The day-to-day lives of high school students consist of grades, exams, books and classes, so the idea of learning beyond academics as a larger pursuit that can last a lifetime may be too abstract or lofty for them to completely understand. However, those who are inspired by the act of learning and are cultivating an interest in developing their own personal knowledge may have some leadership potential. Also, those who are receptive to feedback and constructive criticism are those with a willingness to improve, grow and challenge themselves.
No matter the academic discipline or pursuit, leadership often comes down to take on the tasks that others aren’t willing to do or would rather not do. For a high school student, this may mean spending more time studying to master a particular concept or stepping up to take a larger responsibility in an extracurricular activity.
Not only do the traits identified here distinguish someone as having leadership potential, but they come back to the idea of being a person that inspires trust in others. If this is something that can be recognized in a student, be sure to encourage that and help bring it to fruition, as this person may be a future leader who may make a difference in the lives of others.