Some of the most valuable learning, which takes place during your Albion College career, will result from your participation in a student organization. Your formal classroom learning will be enhanced as you further explore and test your newly acquired knowledge and expertise in an organizational setting.
Effective leadership is crucial for the success of all student organizations at Albion College. Leadership is most commonly described as a process of influencing the behavior or activity of another person towards the accomplishment of a goal. In student organizations, leaders influence the activities of members toward the attainment of organizational goals. The best Albion College student organizations are those that aim to increase the leadership potential of all their members, not just those holding leadership positions. These groups ensure a strong legacy of leadership that stretches beyond the tenure of current members.
Leadership is a Process
The most successful organizations view leadership as a process that simultaneously evolves as a time consuming, challenging, sometimes stressful, and tremendously rewarding endeavor. It is a process that acknowledges experiential learning as a way to bolster the knowledge and expertise of the group. In other words, learning takes place by “doing” rather than by always relying on someone else “doing” something for the group.
Effective leadership is not always a person who is “in charge.” Leadership in an organization may come from within the group rather than in front of the group. Effective leaders are group members who are willing to do their best at all times. They recognize the importance of being positive role models, demonstrating appropriate behaviors and working styles. They are aware that people will as easily learn the wrong way of doing something as the right. Effective leadership involves taking the time to help every group member learn about and reach his or her leadership potential.
Leaders are always willing to listen, both sensitively and critically. They listen to their peers and to trusted advisors. Listening is one way of determining if all other members of the organization are included in activities. Listening is a critical tool for making the group better.
Student leaders identify a variety of personal characteristics necessary for effective leadership. Among them are: Intelligence, Dependability, Belief in Self, Flexibility, Enthusiasm, Insight, Sense of Humor, Confidence, Positive Attitude, Appreciation for Differences.
Few, if any, people possess all of these characteristics at any one point in their lives, but most leaders are aware of the advantages of developing a positive personal style. Your group members, advisor, family and friends, as well as the staff in CPO can help you assess your strengths in these areas.
Styles & Skills
Leaders must develop an effective style. Style is the manner in which the leader uses personal skills and qualities in influencing relationships and goal related activities or tasks in a group. In traditional approaches to leadership, leaders are classified as having one of three styles:
- Autocratic - the leader controls decision-making, is highly directive, and emphasizes the tasks to be accomplished.
- Democratic - the leader shares decision making with the members, delegates when appropriate, and emphasizes both task and the human relations in the group
- Laissez Faire - the leader exercises little (if any) control, provides minimal direction, and allows tasks and relations to work out as they may.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these styles. Experienced leaders know that there is no one best style. Leaders of student organizations often find that having a mix of styles allows them to be effective in various situations. This is accomplished by matching the leader’s level of directiveness and control over the task to be done with the members’ experience and expertise in completing that task and by matching the leader’s level of emotional support with the members’ willingness and motivation for completing the task. Thus, the leader may need to assume different leadership styles with various individuals or subgroups of the organization working on different projects.
For example, if the chairperson of a project really doesn’t know how to get started and is not very motivated to initiate the project, the organization president may find that being highly directive initially and focusing on the job to be done will be most effective. As the chairperson learns the specifics of how to do the job the leader will need to alter the leadership style and be less directive while increasing emphasis on emotional support. At the same time the president is initially using an autocratic style with the chairperson of this project, he or she may have a chairperson of another committee that is highly motivated and has been successful in the past. If the leader is directive with this person, they will probably resent the leader’s control and apparent lack of trust. The leader in this situation would be advised to back off and allow the chairperson to act with minimal direction and interference.
Effective leaders are constantly attempting to enhance the strengths and complement the weaknesses of those members with whom they are working.
Leadership of student organizations is a “people business” and the qualities you develop, skills you learn, and styles you adopt as a student leader will form a foundation for future leadership positions.
Delegating responsibility (the art of spreading the work around) is an indispensable concept that must be grasped by any leader who expects to be successful. Delegation serves a number of purposes that include: allows more people to be actively involved, distributes the work load, and can help the unit run more smoothly.
Many leaders have difficulty delegating responsibility, as often they would prefer to do the job themselves to make sure the job is done correctly. While this method is often more expedient, it can also breed apathy among non-involved members. Sometimes leaders make the mistake of delegating only for themselves. Naturally this can give members the feeling of being used, rather than being important. Following are some simple guidelines in determining when to delegate.
- Tasks that match the skills of members of the group.
- Things that are usually your specified responsibilities, except in emergencies.
- Something you yourself would not be willing to do.
- A task to someone who may not possess the skills necessary to complete.