student leadership

“Inexperienced leaders are quick to lead before knowing anything about the people they intend to lead. But mature leaders listen, learn, and then lead.” –  John C Maxwell

It doesn’t matter if you were president of your college’s spirit organization. It doesn’t matter if you were on the homecoming committee or if you planned sisterhood events for your sorority. “Experience required” is what employers are looking for, and your extracurricular activities simply don’t hold much weight in the hiring process. But should extracurricular activities hold more weight in the eyes of employers?

Don’t get me wrong, related work experience is vitally important. According to a recent survey in USA Today, work experience is the No. 1 important factor in the recruitment process. However, for students wanting to work in venue management or entertainment in general, finding experience while in college is not always easy. So what is the next best alternative? Leadership positions in student organizations, which is ranked the second-most important factor in the recruitment process.

In John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he examines what leadership is and how to become a better leader. In his book, he mentions that the measure of a true leader is one who can lead a volunteer organization. As president of a volunteer-led organization of more than 100 members, I certainly believe this to be true. Getting the most out of volunteers is no easy task. In fact, I’ve compiled a short list of what I’ve learned as a student leader. I have had quite a bit of work experience as an undergrad, but I never learned these specific skills in the workplace. However, all of the following are skills that I plan on using in my career.

  1. Create a vision – First and foremost, I’ve learned it is vital to create a vision or mission statement for the organization or team that you’re working with. This assures that everyone is on the same page and allows everyone to see the big picture beyond their individual tasks.
  1. Understand your team members’ strengths and weaknesses – Everyone has different skills and talents that can be used for the betterment of the team. A good leader must take the time to learn about team members to discover their strengths and find ways to improve their weaknesses.
  1. Get things done, but make time for fun – Being productive is essential in a student organization and in the real world. However, with an organization led by volunteers, you must take the time to have fun every once in awhile. Leadership bonding allows for the team to relax and improve the team’s relationships with one another, thus resulting in better team work and more productivity. Whether it’s a trip to the lake or getting frozen custard together, having fun can make a difference on how motivated and productive your team is.
  1. Learn from your mistakes – When leading volunteers, you can’t continually lay blame for mistakes made by your team. It will alienate them, and they would likely lose their motivation in the team. Instead, you must learn from the mistake as a team and create a system to prevent the mistake from happening again. Our organization documents nearly everything, so when a mistake is made we create a document in our cloud storage that describes what happened and how to complete the task more effectively next time.
  1. Inspire them to leave their mark on the organization – To get the most out of our volunteer leaders, we try to inspire them to leave their mark. By this I mean inspiring the team members to create or implement a system or a process that is better for the organization and that can be sustained for future leaders. This motivates our leaders to work hard beyond their regular job descriptions.

Being a leader in a student organization teaches you what kind of leader you are. It also teaches what works and what doesn’t work when you’re leading people. A common mistake in leadership or management is misunderstanding motivation. A novice leader working at his/her first managerial job may mistake motivation as their employees’ paycheck alone. People won’t work hard and go beyond the norm simply because that’s their job and that’s what they get paid to do. Motivation and getting the most out of people is so much more than money. A good leader or manager motivates their employees by recognizing achievement, giving extra responsibility and praise to those who do well, or creating a sense of camaraderie for your “team,” not simply your department.

Leadership in a student organization also teaches time management skills. Being a leader is a time consuming process in addition to going to class and having a part-time job. Students who can effectively manage their time between those three (or more) areas are also likely to be able to balance work and their personal lives in their careers. Time management is a skill that is learned through experience and is certainly a transferable skill to the professional world.

Leadership positions taught me that nothing is “beneath me.” By this, I mean that leaders are people who will do anything to help the organization or team, even if it’s not a part of their technical job descriptions. A willingness to do anything to help others or an organization is a sign of humility, and I believe should be a desired quality when employers are searching for applicants.

Since many jobs in venues and entertainment involve managing people in some capacity, a candidate with developed leadership skills should stand out in the pool of applicants. The more someone knows about leading people, the less time a company has to spend in either training a new person in leadership or in fixing the mistakes of a new employee who doesn’t know how to lead. Leadership positions in student organizations are in a way a type of work experience, because those positions can be a lot of work that “pay” you in the experience that you gain. While leadership positions aren’t ranked quite as high as work experience, leadership positions should be carefully evaluated as they teach skills that should be considered as highly important to recruiters and companies. FM

(Image: Shawn Calhoun/Creative Commons)