When I began looking for my first job in Student Affairs and Higher Education (#SAHE), I made an oath to myself: I will lead students by example. I will work alongside of them getting my hands dirty and my feet wet. I will meet students where they need to be met. I will leave my legacy not only with the university I choose but within the students I mentor as well. At the conclusion of my job search, I felt called to Western New Mexico University (#WNMU). I had this feeling inside of me – I know I can fulfill my oath there! So I packed my bags, moved to New Mexico, and began my new life as a student affairs professional (#SAPro).
I had the summer of 2016 to devise a plan- a plan that would allow me to share my leadership with the students that were about to move on campus for a year. It needed to be strong. It needed to be memorable. It needed to be my trademark.
Leadership is effective. Period! Especially when we are shaping our college students to become committed and functioning citizens of society. It did not take me very long to establish my plan.
One year into the job and I have students in my office at all hours of the day, students mimicking things I have shared with them, and students that aspire to go out into the world and be leaders.
In March of 2017, I spent a week with five students from Western New Mexico University in Panama where we were participating in our first ever Alterative Spring Break (#ASB2k17). The group spent a week doing community service and had many opportunities for cultural emersion. They did everything from playing with children to painting buildings to building a house. They operated as a team of six, and if one team member was down, all were down. Clearly that count of six included the chaperone- ME! I rolled up my sleeves and did the work alongside of the five students. I began the week demonstrating what I expected from them (in a subtle way, of course!) Much to my surprise, midway through the week, I no longer had to be the “leader” of the group. The students took charge, stepped up, and took it upon themselves to be the leaders.
Each night we had reflection. I tasked each participant to pick a night and lead the discussion. Once again, I was left in awe by the depth of conversation and meaning this group reached. What I thought would be a brief evening conversation turned into a two hour “heart to heart” about their lived experiences, their ambitions, and their wittiness of this trip. On the last night, I led reflection. I gave them an exercise- We went around the room and shared with each person what this trip made us feel about them. (What we learned from each person, what they added to the group, what they appreciate about each other, etc. - needless to say, it took about three hours).
The group wanted to save me for last. To be honest, I did not even expect them to include me. I had every intention of them doing this on their own. When they got to me, I heard on multiple occasions a few reoccurring themes-
- “Your leadership taught us so much about how to be a leader.”
- “It was inspiring to see you dive in and work with us all week showing us that the leader of the group was here for the same purpose we were.”
- “The example you set has inspired me to do work similar to yours.”
Please do not get me wrong. I do not share this to boast. I am genuinely humbled by their remarks. The whole week I considered myself the wheels- the person that just handled the logistics and made things run smoothly. I never would have guessed that I could have shown the students that much of myself that they could come to the conclusion that I am a servant leader.
This opened my eyes to how being a servant leader makes more servant leaders.
Yes, there are many types of leaders out there and we may in fact reflect more than one. Be all that you can be as long as you have the student’s growth in mind.
So here are some tips (from me, in my opinion):
- Set common goals with your students and figure out a plan for how they and you can accomplish something together.
- Read between the lines- listen to what your students need in order to thrive and succeed and find a hands on way to provide that to them.
- Lead by example! Show your students what you expect and be a role model.
- Aspire to inspire.
- Help your students find their leadership style and encourage them to always utilize it. They need validation to know and believe they are doing things right.
With the close of this academic school year right around the corner, let’s encourage our students to do something this summer. Let’s encourage them to share their servant leadership in one way or another so they in return can inspire others to go out and be servant leaders too.
And let’s make next year another one to lead by example.