While the definition of leadership is the act of heading up a group of people or an organization, effective leadership entails so much more, and everyone has their own take on how to demonstrate it. My personal definition of leadership includes putting others before yourself and pushing yourself (and others) out of your (and their) comfort zone to facilitate growth. Leaders learn from their mistakes and always strive to grow. They are also adaptable and display different styles of leadership based on different situations. No two leaders are exactly alike, but through strong communication skills, leaders work together to catalyze the achievement of a goal.
Understanding Your Leadership Style
Leaders can fall into three categories: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. Autocratic leaders take complete control of the group, democratic leaders work with the group to reach a conclusion representative of the whole group, and laissez-faire leaders have very little influence on the group as a whole.
Leaders can also exhibit more narrowly defined leadership styles: telling, persuading, consulting, joining, and delegating. “Telling” leaders take notice of problems, come up with solutions without directly consulting the members of the group, and assign everyone in the group a role. “Persuading” leaders make a decision without conferring with the entire group, then try to persuade the group that the decision should be accepted. “Consulting” leaders allow members of the group to share their input but may provide a preliminary solution and encourage members of the group to propose other solutions before the leader decides on one solution that they believe is the most likely to succeed. “Joining” leaders become a part of the group and participate in the discussion and decision-making process just as any other member of the group would. “Delegating” leaders step back and have the group members decide upon a solution, often only introducing the topic and not providing any of their own ideas.
Personally, I believe that I am a consulting leader. I value the opinions of the people I work with and appreciate the fact that everyone has a different perspective on details when we are planning events. For example, some of the best events my student council has organized have succeeded because of the input of every councilmember. I also rely on a democratic style of leadership. I act to guide the council in the right direction to plan an event, but ultimately, everyone has a say in the final product. I have found that democratic leadership causes the least amount of conflict within groups.
One of the most useful tools that a leader can use is goal setting. Goal setting allows leaders to formulate a plan to accomplish specific tasks. Goals keep leaders motivated, and when a group of leaders sets a goal, the efficiency of the group soars. I try to encourage all members to set personal goals—both long- and short-term—to create a sense of togetherness and synergy within the council. And remember, goals should always be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely)!
Effective communication is another extraordinary asset. Communication is the backbone of student council. Keeping in constant contact with councilmembers guarantees that all members are involved in committees and that no member will be left in the dark about upcoming events. While we were learning virtually due to the pandemic, it was difficult to get councilmembers to respond to emails or attend meetings. Now that we are back to in-person school, we have two executive board meetings and two general council meetings each month to ensure that everyone is informed of student council activities. Additionally, I set up a Discord server as a channel of communication between councilmembers for announcements, questions, and committee coordination.
Adaptability is another characteristic of successful leaders. Being able to thrive under changing circumstances ensures that a project will turn out spectacularly, no matter what curveballs are thrown your way. One of the most prominent examples of adaptability at our school is the implementation of virtual FLEX assemblies. FLEX stands for “Friendship, Leadership, and EXtracurricular,” which are three of the main values of my school. FLEX assemblies are a time when the entire student body meets, and student council provides programming (skits, awards ceremonies, games, etc.) for about an hour, with the goal of bringing the entire student body closer together. When we switched to virtual learning, I held the office of vice president of public information and communications. FLEX assemblies are an essential part of our student council, and I was not going to let the virtual setting stop us from having them. So, I worked with my adviser, principal, and several council members to put together an interactive assembly for the student body.
Using What You Know
Assessing the needs of your student council, your school, and your community allows you to generate meaningful projects. To successfully implement them, use what you know about yourself as a leader and your council as a unit. Then, you and your council can achieve anything!
I have used my knowledge of leadership styles and traits of an effective council to facilitate many projects. One of the most memorable was titled “Morning Daily Watch.” After school buildings initially closed due to COVID-19, it was clear that everyone felt isolated and missed the personal interactions they had at school. As a student council, we banded together, kept clear lines of communication open, and set goals in order to make this project a success. With Morning Daily Watch, we created a way for students, faculty, and staff to connect and give students a break from schoolwork for a few minutes each day.
Every morning of the school week, a themed Padlet was released to the students. “Make It Monday” included tutorials for simple, low-cost DIY projects. “Tune In Tuesday” featured a podcast made by a student councilmember to spotlight popular books, movies, and music. “Wellness Wednesday” highlighted healthy habits and included fun and healthy snack tutorial videos each week. “Trivia Thursday” challenged students to tricky trivia, crossword puzzles, and more. “Fun Friday” was a hodgepodge of activities that kept students active and engaged, including dance tutorials and quick exercise routines. Students were encouraged to post pictures and videos each day and interact with one another. Overall, Morning Daily Watch helped bring everyone closer together, although we were learning and teaching apart.
Understanding your personal definition of leadership, your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, your leadership style, and the most important factors in running a successful council will make your council more efficient and effective than ever. Though there will be many bumps along the way, the true test of leadership is perseverance—to never give up in the face of adversity, something that even the best of leaders will undoubtedly face.
Isabella Powell is student council president at Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology in Conyers, GA.