Making leaders, the experiential way

Making leaders, the experiential way

Student Leaders

Making leaders, the experiential way

Most definitions of leadership found in various sources tie up the word "leader" with a position in a formal or a semi-formal organization. The student is definitely a part of an organized structure called an institution.

However, (s)he has a pre-defined role in that structure, which doesn't allow her/him to play the role of a leader.  Within the class-room, there exists no formal or semi-formal structure.  To get a decent job the students have to show some evidence of leadership. How can a student show-up as a leader during his/her period of study?

Most institutions say that the student has to be "trained" to be a leader and offer various training programs in addition to their curriculum. Many institutions have some form of semi-formal organization within the class such as "Student Clubs", "Placement Cells", "Entrepreneurship Cells", "Event Management Groups" and many more in which students are expected to drive things. However, this approach has not given any significant results in the area of student leadership.

Traditional View

Usually, in all traditional thoughts of leadership, first an individual "has leadership qualities", then (s)he uses the qualities "to take leadership actions" and then (s)he "becomes a leader". Many training programs focus on developing leadership qualities. They "prescribe" which characteristics match to which situations and try to arrive at a "generalized set of qualities" that are presumed to be useful in all situations.

However, there are infinite number of situations that might arise in the world and all of them cannot be predicted. Besides, it is impossible to say which set of qualities would definitely yield results in which situations. This being the case, the traditional training of leadership leaves it to the individual to figure out which qualities can match to which situations.

When this is applied to the area of "student leadership", the following concerns become evident:
* The period of study being short, each opportunity for leadership becomes critical.  
n A student, already occupied with a good number of working hours with curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, has to really struggle to find time for additional leadership training.

Instant leadership

On 13th October, 1972, an airplane carrying a rugby team crashed in the Andes Mountains because of the miscalculations of their position by the crew. Eighteen of the 45 people died in the crash and the remaining 27 were stranded high in the mountains. Rescue operations could not find the airplane as its white colour blended in perfectly with the snow blanket that covered the mountains at that time. So, all efforts were abandoned.

Under these dire circumstances, three people, from the victim group, decided to trek the Andes mountain range to seek help. They took on the responsibility of the rest of the group's survival. In the process they solved many problems and finally reached their goal, though it took them more than two months time. The whole world, even today, talks with awe at the courage and the leadership they have shown.

How did a bunch of people who had no formal training in dealing with a plane crash, who had not had any formal training in leadership, who had never dealt with survival in such magnitude, show up as leaders? The traditional view of leadership, perhaps, has no satisfactory answer.

Exploring Student Leadership

There are various situations in an institution where opportunities for leadership are available:

*  Breakthrough in Student Research:
In a research,we told the students that they have opportunities to publish papers and present them in conferences. We educated them on how to write a research paper and present it. We also trained them in data analysis. With this, the students were able to plan, schedule and execute their work, despite their academic pressures. Consequently, they not only published and presented their papers, but they were able to bag prizes such as "best research paper award", in competition with other students and faculty members. A few students could also make contributions in international journals. By sharing about their work in interviews, they were seen as leaders and were offered better jobs and compensation.

n  Classroom Leadership:
We showed a video of Andes Mountain Crash to students and illustrated how it can be related to Strategic Management. We also expressed that our students are capable of finding such material and organizing interactive sessions for each subject. We gave them a week's time to start this work. The students were able to not only download existing material from you tube, but also came up with their own role plays. These plays were shot as short movies and shown in the class. Besides, the students were able to have self-organized quizzes, debates, role-plays, management exercises and games of their own for various subjects.

n  Students Lead Students:
Training for placements was an expensive affair. In reality such training is fairly simple and with a few guidelines the students can do it on their own. We expressed this to our MBA students and trained them on some of the aspects such as "Facing Interviews", "Participating in Group Discussions" and other softskills. We told them to train students from other departments in engineering and also in MCA. Seeing the opportunity, they started to take actions through rehearsals after college hours and getting feedback from us whenever they faced some challenge. When the day for performance came, they automatically showed up as leaders to all the students. After this first experience, they are now in the process of identifying more challenging tasks and performing them amongst themselves.

n  Organizing Events:
Most of the events organized in an educational institution are routine. As an innovative step we had thought of conducting a fair for NGOs to showcase their skill and creativity and at the same time have their products sold. Another idea was doing a "Sante" (market) for "student-made products" exclusively for marketing students. Another idea was promoting subject knowledge through "Street Plays". We shared these ideas with students and gave them the deadlines for having the above events. We told them that they are in-charge and these events are measures of their success. We also explained how these events are linked with their subjects and what they can get out of conducting and participating in these events. The students recognized the opportunity underlying these events and took it in their stride. When the events were held, the students were automatically seen as leaders without any "motivation" or "training" on leadership qualities. They were made aware of their own barriers to leadership.

n  Scoring in Examinations:
In a given class, by looking at their test performance for the first time, we set specific scores that they have to achieve for the second test. The marks to be scored are displayed to everyone. In some cases, the marks to be scored were very high compared to that of the previous score. In each class that we took after the goals were set, we started asserting the fact that the scores, indeed were achievable. When students came for specific advice, we coached them appropriately. Ninety percent of the classes were able to make the set score. For the next test, this was automatically done by the students themselves. This process enabled them to score very high in internal examinations. Note that we never spoke about qualities of good students throughout this process. By being in action, the students automatically showed the qualities of a leading student.
(The writers are associate professors)

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