5 Ways Student Leaders Fail A Little

I am in the business of helping student leaders succeed.

But you must realize that I probably define success differently than most. Within the world of student leadership, the road to success is sometimes paved with failure. Some of the best lessons I can teach or talk about come from the mistakes and mishaps that occur during the student leader year.

For a student leader, failure can be the fodder of lifelong lessons.

When a student leader experiences success, he or she will move quickly to the next thing. When they fail, it tends to stop them in their tracks. The lessons of leadership form better roots in the fertile soil of failure.

So I don’t freak out (not as much as I used to) when a student leader fails. While I don’t go looking for it, I’m not surprised by it. Success is learning from a mistake and doing something different next time. Failure is making a mistake…over and over and over again. When that happens, our mistake has turned into a bad habit.

When I sit down to evaluate a failure with a student leader, we often discover there were some minor failures that led to the big one. They failed in little ways that led to this big teachable moment.

If you are a student leader, I would encourage you to keep your eye on the following five failures. They might seem small or insignificant. But each one has the possibility of lighting the fuse that leads to a major failure.

Student leaders fail a little when they…

1. Fail to listen

A leader’s greatest communication skill is not the ability to speak, it’s the ability to listen. Listening works a lot better when it is paired with an attitude of teachability. If you stop listening, you stop leading. People will feel appreciated, cared for, and part of the team if they know you’re listening to them. Listening keeps you in the loop.

Think about how many times you’ve been a part of a failure and someone said, “I didn’t know that” or “I didn’t hear you say that.”

Click to tweet this: Great listeners don’t just hear what people say, they understand what people mean.

2. Fail to plan/prepare

Every student leader is excited and motivated at the start of a school year or special project. But soon, very soon, the dreaded event-to-event virus will show up. This is when you become overwhelmed with your school work, your relationships, your leadership position, your job, and everything else. Life becomes a race to the next thing. When that starts to happen, you are susceptible for failure.

When you don’t take the time to adequately plan and prepare, you sacrifice excellence. You and I need some breathing room in our lives so we can do our best work. Guard your calendar. USE your calendar.

Click to tweet this: Failing to plan and prepare is the first step to failing to perform.

3. Fail to exercise

I don’t think we talk about this enough. The manner in which you take care of yourself physically has a direct bearing on every other facet of your life. You need energy to do what you do. When I see a student stop taking care of him or herself, I know it’s only a matter of time before other areas begin to suffer. Exercise will help you have a clear mind, make better decisions, and increase your stamina for the busy seasons of your life.

Sleep is crucial. If you don’t rest, you won’t last. Schedule in time to care for your body. Eat better!

Click to tweet this: The investment you make in yourself will only add to the investment you can make in others.

4. Fail to ask for help

You are called “student leaders” because the student part is important. It is a learning process. Lean on your advisor or mentor for guidance. Don’t feel like you have to know everything. Student leaders finally gain the experience they need to do their positions well at the end of the year. Unfortunately, that’s also when they leave. New people come in. The transition is the beauty of student leadership.

The leader part is important as well. If you do everything by yourself, you aren’t a leader…you’re a worker. You need to get others involved. You need a team to accomplish something greater than you can accomplish on your own.  Take a moment and read Help Wanted (And Needed).

Click to tweet this: Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re helpless.

5. Fail to follow through

Student leaders are so good at starting well. But the biggest failures don’t happen at the beginning, they typically happen near the end of an event or project. It’s the little things that a leader does as things begin to wind down that can make an event go from good to great. Don’t be the person who shows up to the meeting and hasn’t completed your responsibility.

Don’t be the person who doesn’t respond to emails, texts, or phone calls. Don’t keep others in the dark with information they need to know. Follow through builds trust. Over time, others know they can count on you. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you make a mistake, apologize and make it right.

Click to tweet this: If you don’t finish what you start, starting doesn’t count.

Think about it: If you fail a little in each of these areas, you are setting yourself up for a major failure. But I believe the opposite is true as well. Small steps of success in each of these areas will lead to even bigger successes. Most of the time, our major failures or successes are the result of the little things we do or don’t do each and every day.

Answer this question: Which one of the five in this list do you struggle with the most? What is one little thing you can do today to turn that little failure into a little success?

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