Identifying Potential Leaders

It’s time to elect and select “student leaders” for next year. I put the term in quotes because it may or may not lead to actual leadership. That’s a choice each student who serves in a position must make. It’s the choice to be a student worker or a student leader. Simply serving in a position doesn’t make the choice for you.

I’m often asked how we go about finding students who might fill these leadership roles. They wonder what a potential student leader looks like. They want to know that the student that’s selected will make the choice to lead rather than try to do everything all by him or herself (be a student worker).

I think there are some characteristics one can look for. The following nine attributes are glimpses of leadership that might be nurtured or unleashed in the right setting:

  1. This person influences other people.
    This is one of the biggest indicators of potential. This person already has the ear and the attention of others, with or without a position or some type of power. Ask yourself who this person influences and who influences this person.
  2. This person is a people person.
    There are a lot of people who have been placed in a position of leadership because of their skills or abilities. Those types of leaders only last for so long. It is a person’s people skills that keeps someone in leadership the longest.
  3. This person is a positive person.
    Think about it: do you like to be around a positive person or a negative person? Do you want someone who will be contagious in a positive direction or a negative one? While positivity alone doesn’t qualify one for leadership, negativity can ruin any leader’s effectiveness.
  4. This person has a proven past.
    Everyone has some type of experience. Yet it’s only those who have learned from their experience (both positive and negative) that get the most from it. Take a look at what this person has accomplished and who he or she accomplished it with. Think about whether this person’s past success is a one-time effort or if he or she is capable of repeating it…again…with excellence.
  5. This person solves problems.
    Problems are a leader’s job security only as long as a leader is a problem-solver. There are many who are put into positions only to run from or ignore or complain about the problems that come their way. Potential leaders are problem reporters (identifying where the problems are) but are problem solvers.
  6. This person values progress.
    A leader will always be on the lookout for ways to make something better and do things with excellence. This will mean change. Those who accept the status quo and are afraid of taking a risk may not be your best candidate for leadership.
  7. This person sees the big picture.
    Most people concern themselves with the day-to-day events of life. A leader must see above the distractions and the details to keep the group or team moving forward. A leader sees ahead. Look for people who understand the value of vision and reaching goals.
  8. This person leads him or herself first.
    Discipline is mandatory for good leadership over the course of a year. If a person cannot lead him or herself well, we cannot expect them to lead others well. Look at how this person handles emotions and time.
  9. This person is calm in the storm.
    Consider those who don’t freak out or experience a meltdown in the midst of crisis. This person has a realistic view of him or herself and can handle stressful circumstances calmly and effectively. This person doesn’t allow his or her ego to get in the way of what needs to get done.

As you look back over this list, remember that you are trying to identify potential in others. You are trying to view people not as they are but as they could become.  I’ve discovered that our campus experiences the best year possible when we do well in the selection and election of the best student leaders possible. Our process begins with identifying the potential within someone and encouraging him or her to develop that potential in a position of leadership.

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  3. I agree with the characteristics you point out. One thing we do in my school is develop leaders once they are on the student council. We have established a “Lunch with Leaders” program for these students. Once per month, we bring in a leader from the community to have lunch with and speak to our middle school student council. It has been a great program!

    It is amazing who all will agree to come speak to your kids for the price of a cafeteria lunch! He have had the mayor, local Republican party leader, state supreme court justice, and others and it has been a learning experience for all involved — especially me!

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Author

      What a fantastic opportunity for these middle school students. Thanks for planting the seeds of leadership early in their lives. This is a great idea…something that I think we could do pretty easily on our college campus.

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