Leadership can be viewed as a complex concept. Most people learn the traits and themes that help create a great leader but seldom do they live out the concepts they’ve learned in their day-to-day life. By breaking down a few basic leadership concepts in this article and providing “real world” examples I hope to lay out a clear picture of what leadership looks like on JMU’s campus.
Integrity, integrity, integrity! If you haven’t caught on yet, integrity might be the most important aspect of an effective and successful leader. Without integrity a leader has no credibility. The last few sentences may have lost some people so I’m going to rewind and break it down. It may seem simple to have integrity, but what exactly is it? Integrity can be defined as the consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrity). The keyword in that definition is consistency. In order to gain credibility a leader must be consistent in his/her actions. An example of integrity in the everyday life of a JMU student, that I learned from Dr. Mark Warner, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and University Planning, is do what you said you would do. It’s a simple concept, but unfortunately most young adults fail to follow through on their promises or tasks that they were assigned/volunteered for.
A huge mistake most people make when trying to better themselves is concentrating on their weaknesses instead of their strengths. This tactic leads to mediocrity. It has been proven that when an individual concentrates on his/her weaknesses he/she will never be great! So, how can a JMU student apply this to his/her everyday life? JMU students should focus on bettering themselves in the subjects they are already great at, student athletes should concentrate on their in-game strengths during practice, and student leaders should concentrate on the strengths of their organization instead of the weaknesses.
Being empathetic is an essential part of establishing a following and to gain the respect of others. This is essential because one’s followers define a great leader; so if the followers don’t respect the leader then in essence the leader has failed. Having empathy might be the hardest concept to practice on a day-to-day basis but one must realize not everyone copes with situations the same. Empathic listening, a part of empathy, is where most students fail. In order to listen empathically one acts as a mirror, reflecting back the words and emotions of the speaker. Simple questions might be used to learn more, but reflecting words and emotions will be the best tool the leader can use. This process will help the person who is experiencing discomfort (mental/emotional) feel understood and be more willing to openly share the root causes of the problems. As the leader you must remember that empathic listening does not include what you think the person should do or include you sharing your own personal experiences. Simply listen, reflect words and emotions, ask simple questions only when necessary and let the person in distress find a solution for the problem.
Although all of these concepts seem easy and like common sense, I’ve struggled with them the most since being in college. Not only have I struggled with them but thousands of others who have walked on this campus as a student or a student leader have too! Concentrate on these ideas and see if it makes a difference!