What Does Leadership Mean?


 Parents can really stress over the topic of leadership in their child’s profile.  Some put too much emphasis on it.  Others try to ignore it.  Most don’t know exactly what it means.  It is true that top colleges are looking for leaders who can take full advantage of the opportunities a good college will give them.

In fact, some of the more technical schools place a premium on recruiting leaders since most of their students tend to be science types with little interest in traditional leadership.  However, schools don’t fill their whole class with leaders (they are also looking for humanitarians, go-getters, entrepreneurs, all-star athletes, etc.).  So relax.  Your child doesn’t need to be student body president to have a shot at a great college.   Interestingly enough though, students in these other categories often have leadership qualities such as: drive, desire to fix problems, motivation, the ability to think outside the box, and the gift of understanding and managing people.

In future posts we’ll talk about developing these skills, but today I’d like to simply define the term.  After 30 years as a Leadership Coach and a lifetime of functioning in leadership capacities, I am often tickled by what people call leadership.  Let’s set the record straight:

Volunteering is not leadership 

Now, volunteering is valuable because it does help children see what leadership entails so that it is a natural progression as they work their way up the ladder.  Just don’t mistake any voluntary job as leadership. 

Going to a leadership conference is not leadership  

It can be an honor or award if your student was selected out of a competitive field. It can be counted as enrichment and can certainly be beneficial, but doesn’t belong on a resume under “Leadership.” 

Being a member of a group is not leadership 

It’s wonderful that your student went with the youth group to paint someone’s house or on a mission trip.  However, unless they organized part of the event or were responsible for something on their own, we don’t call it leadership.

 You don’t have to be elected to be a leader (or hold the title) 

Many people mistakenly think their students have to be a part of an organization to ever function as a leader.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Kids who care deeply about something can transform into leaders overnight, just by virtue of their passion.  Others are willing to follow someone with vision.  In fact, this type of leadership is almost always more valuable, to the student’s growth AND their college application, than traditional forms of leadership.  You just have to be careful that it is explained well for scholarships and college applications.  There is nothing I enjoy more than helping students learn how to present this is the best possible light. 

Here’s my definition of leadership:

Leadership is assuming responsibility for the outcome of a meeting, event, or project.  It can be elected or assumed.  Being a member of a group is not being a leader, being responsible to carry something out is. 

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