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Help me understand "leadership"

ProudMomx3ProudMomx3 Posts: 3 Harvard Champion
edited May 2013 in Parents Forum
So it seems that "leadership" is a very important element of college and scholarship applications. Help me understand what "leadership" encompasses. Is it mostly synonymous with popularity?

Of course I know there are the rare kids out there that start legitimate businesses, are political or social activists, or pioneer organizations. Again, I believe these kids are rare. Our HS has a student body of 1500 and I can't ever recall reading or hearing about anyone doing anything extraordinary like this....

So, please share what you feel constitutes resume worthy "leadership".
Post edited by ProudMomx3 on

Replies to: Help me understand "leadership"

  • vlinesvlines Posts: 9
    edited May 2013
    Leadership can be literal, evidenced by holding an office in an organization and accomplishing something noteworthy while in the office. Or as you suggest, by starting a small businesses, nonprofit, etc.

    Or leadership can be a philosophy, or way of living your life. Leading by example, being a leader in the community through actions...

    The second is obviously harder to document.
  • rualumrualum Posts: 14
    edited May 2013
    Holding an office like class president, or being in any office on student council. Being the captain of a sports team. Organizing some kids to play piano at a senior center. Organizing a food drive for the local animal shelter. Earning the Eagle rank in scouts. All of these things demonstrate leadership.
  • xraymancsxraymancs College Rep Posts: 41
    edited May 2013
    There are lots of leadership activities that students in High School get involved with. The ones detailed by previous posters are all good examples.

    When we interview for the Duchossois Leadership Scholars at Illinois Institute of Technology, we look at all of these things but during the interview we are looking for things that are more intangible as well. The successful interviewees tend to be the ones who see a need and then meet it by taking initiative and motivating others to engage. We find that these kinds of students have a lot of "soft skills", that is, they are able to express themselves very well, show passion for what they do and are able to motivate others to care too.
  • MadaboutxMadaboutx Posts: 6
    edited May 2013
    Leadership can be within a religious organization, even within a family-some kids raise their siblings or help parents going thru sickness or job loss.

    Leadership is taking initiative and action to get things done. It's a simple difference between leading a following. A title or official position is not required but it needs to come thru in the essays. The opposite is true also. Having a title or official position doesn't necessarily distinguish one as a leader. That can come thru in essays too if its clear there is no passion for the position, no stories to tell, just a list of titles is not quite enough. A list of accomplishments in that title or position is the divider many kids miss.
  • younghossyounghoss Posts: 9
    edited May 2013
    Cynical, I know, but here's another example:
    A good h.s. athlete, that wants to go to a Div 2 school can have difficulty with an athletic scholarship. So, it is not uncommon for such a school to offer a "leadership" scholarship to get aroung the -no athletic scholarship- rule.
  • mamabear1234mamabear1234 Posts: 10
    edited May 2013
    Not sure I agree with madaboutx in that leadership needs to show in the essays. My D had a couple of leadership positions on her application - a co-captain of a sports team and VP of a HS organization, but her essays did not touch on these two activities at all. She had excellent admission results.

    I think the 'leadership' factor is overrated, in the same way that the quest for large amounts of service hours is thought necessary. Most kids just need a few long-term interests, IMO (and my son didn't even have much for his application resume at all!)
  • redpointredpoint Posts: 40
    edited May 2013
    Leadership: A buzzword. Students as described by xraymancs are few and far between, and deserve praise, but every captain of every team does not a leader make. Some of this is popularity, manipulation. Colleges should look for the quality, yes, but wouldn't it be better if they didn't advertise this?

    Not everyone who does not lead, is not a follower. I'm a perfectly normal, sociable person but I hate to join groups. Neither a leader nor a follower be.
  • LoremIpsumLoremIpsum Posts: 38
    edited May 2013
    Yes, leadership roles often turn out to be popularity contests, which favor highly-sociable extroverts. Despite this, it often does offer colleges a way to look beyond the activities laundry-list collectors to see where applicants show passion and commitment.

    My younger son is a quiet type who would never formally apply for a leadership position, much less campaign to win one. Nevertheless, he became captain of his high school's Scholastic Bowl team and its Math team because he was passionate about winning, always showed up to practice meetings and answered more questions right than any of his peers. So he naturally fell into it because his peers and his faculty advisors saw him as being the best fit. He's now a college freshman and was recently nominated and elected vice-president of one of its clubs unopposed, again because of his commitment to always showing up and actively participating.

    So "leadership" can also be looked at as the commitment to show up regularly, stay involved and meet deadlines. Individuals who randomly show up at meetings are a dime a dozen, but those who help sustain the continued existence of an organization are significantly more involved.
  • keepittoyourselfkeepittoyourself Posts: 1
    edited May 2013
    Historically? Not being Jewish. Today, say some? Not being Asian.
  • moonchildmoonchild Posts: 62
    edited May 2013
    Resume worthy leadership: Newspaper editors, Yearbook editors, sports team captains, student body officers, club officers (which can cover just about every activity from Key Club to LGBT), out of school leadership like Scouting, community service organizations, political campaigning, and international service work. Most high schools have a ton of organizations and clubs, and they all have kids in leadership roles. Sometimes it's popularity (not necessarily a bad thing to be liked and effective in working with people) and sometimes it's just as LoremIpsum said, showing up and and actively participating over a long period of time.
    I'm one of those who values leadership in young people and understands why colleges might find it an attractive quality. I like to see kids empowered, taking charge of their lives and motivating others to make a difference.
  • xraymancsxraymancs College Rep Posts: 41
    edited May 2013
    Agreed, there are many ways in which leadership manifests itself. One does not have to be "rah-rah" but it is important to have the respect of others and the ability to engage them. Leading oneself alone does not qualify as leadership.

    A brilliant introvert is of great value and many of our best scientists are exactly that. However, they are not necessarily leaders. Perhaps this kind of person can change his/her field but that is a very indirect form of leadership, not what is normally meant by the term.
  • GoldenWestGoldenWest Posts: 6 Harvard Champion
    edited May 2013
    A couple of years ago, I volunteered to read essays for a Cal Alumni scholarship offered to junior students and incoming transfers. The key component to qualify was demonstrated leadership. I probably read 50 or so essays. It was very interesting to me to note that most of the students tried to take experiences that were really tutoring or other volunteering activities with children and make those sound like leadership experience. The applicants who really stood out had either been in the military or were involved in Scouting. They were truly able to articulate what leadership meant and give concrete examples in a way that most of the other applicants were unable to do.
  • moonchildmoonchild Posts: 62
    edited May 2013
    Being able to motivate others to do good work and accomplish something difficult by a deadline is a very valuable attribute. I know kids in scouting have an opportunity to develop this skill, and I imagine the military has even more opportunities.
  • FallGirlFallGirl Posts: 8
    edited May 2013
    I don't get high school "leadership", either. Some of the best business and community leaders I have met are people who have admitted to me that they were loners, outcasts or slackers in high school. Sure there are a handful of people who really do have natural leadership skills as teens, and I have met a few, but so many more people develop these skills as they mature, gain self confidence and get out of the high school environment.

    I can't understand why on earth a college would want a class of all "leaders" anyway. Sounds like total chaos to me.
  • LonelyHapaxLonelyHapax Posts: 9 College Search & Selection Champion
    edited May 2013
    ^ "Leadership" is hard to understand until you see it. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a group of "leaders" tends to be one of the best groups you can be on.

    A leader is charismatic. There are lots of ways to embody this. When you talk to a natural leader they make you feel important, like what you have to say is valuable, like they genuinely are interested in your input. A leader makes you trust them, makes you want to hand over group decision to them. Makes you feel like, if they are in charge, that everybody will be listened to and acknowledged. A person feels like communication is open with their leader, the leader is an open-book, their concerns are clear and understood. If assigned into groups where a leader is present, within 5 minutes everybody will be looking to the natural leader for direction, without that person every having a made a conscious effort for this role.

    Somebody who embodies leadership is generally not bossy. (I have met some older adults who lead while being bossy-er, but embody some quality that makes the group want to listen).

    When you put people who embody the traits of a leader in a group, that group is filled with positive ideas and people willing to listen to, and respectful of one another.

    Of course, having a leadership role doesn't mean you embody these traits. But when a strong natural leader is present, they generally end up in these positions.

    I have met high schoolers like those described above, but they are (of course) very few and far between. If I were a college, I would want a class filled with these types of people, no question. They'll be successful; they'll be do-ers; they'll motivate stagnant groups to do something great.

    As pertains to college applications. Any positions or experience where the student had to manage a lot of people into a cohesive unit. Even "service roles" are often interpreted as involving leadership, as a student often needs to be quick-thinking, and social and communication skills are often involved with lots of strangers on a daily basis.
    Sometimes leadership is just shown by leading by example. They may not be the "natural leaders" I have described above, but a consistent work ethic and a tendency to stay on top of everything is recognized and admired by a group over time. Theses kids often end up in leadership roles with minimal effort after a year or two in a group, even though some of them may be more introverted and not able to form connections with people quickly.

    Many groups have elected "leaders" who don't do much of anything. Usually if a student has to talk about these groups it quickly become evident they had no meaningful impact.
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