KC Spotlight: Student Leadership Programs

Rachel Kohman, Student Leadership Programs KC Representative

August 27, 2018

In a recent yoga session I scheduled for the student leaders on campus (call it forced self-care, an opportunity to breathe and center before new students arrived on campus- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for your sanity and the wellbeing of the student leaders) the instructor was talking us through a stationary stretch. “It’s in the doing nothing that everything happens.” This simple phrase stuck with me. It resonates with the idea of when it comes to developing student leaders that it is when we step back and do not do anything that they grow the most.

When working with student leaders we want to do everything we can to educate and prepare them to be successful. We tend to do so much from building curriculum, to planning trainings, and finding ways to give them high impact opportunities to engage within their leadership roles. As their facilitators, mentors, and advisors we have so much to give. We want to allow them to be the best leaders they can, but there comes a time when it is just as important to do nothing and allow the students the opportunity to step in and fully take over the reins. It is this fly or fall opportunity that helps them truly invest in themselves. If they succeed, that is wonderful; yet if they fail, it is wonderful too. We are right there to help them pick up the pieces and learn from that experience to then go on and try again.

When we think of it from a rational, educational, growth, or developmental mindset it makes sense.  The training wheels have to come off sometime, hopefully before you are taking your first run down a mountain when crashing will be cataclysmically bad. Rather it is safer and smarter to start with the training wheels off on the flat short stretch of sidewalk, in a quiet neighborhood where falling will not be life altering, but a learning experience about the importance of getting back up and trying again. In the same way we have to allow the students we work with to have those real life opportunities where it is not going to mean they are fired, sued, or arrested when they mess up.

However, that does not make it easy for us to simply do nothing. I myself know how much I thrive when everything goes right, according to my plan, and when we can just celebrate the awesomeness of everything going smoothly. Honestly it is also partially about the control. I know the right things to do to make sure everything is successful and I know how to (in most cases) best lead and motivate others to ensure an initiative is successful. The reality is though, when I take all the control I am not demonstrating good leadership, not to mention preventing some amazing learning moments from occurring for the student leaders I am working with.

In the Kansas Leadership Center’s (KLC) approach to leadership the third principle states leadership “starts with you and must engage others”. We cannot call ourselves leaders or educators of student leaders if we are not truly getting them engaged in all aspects of leadership. Additionally, major portions within the leadership competencies of KLC also focus on how we as leaders interact with, engage, and empower others, because for change to happen in adaptive challenges the action cannot take place in a vacuum. It is only when we learn how to give the work back that we are truly allowing student leaders to develop their own intimate understanding of how they want to present their personal leadership style.

Please know that I am not suggesting to step away and let students do everything all on their own right from the start, we can all imagine the massive train wreck that would create. We still need to be supplying the education and foundation to make sure they have a strong conceptual understanding of leadership. Then when the time comes, we have to step back and do nothing so that the student leaders can step in and make everything happen.

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