By Alex Wojcik
High school hallways can be loud and overwhelming. Under the pressure of limited time between classes and under the weight of a heavy backpack, teenagers still finding their way in life stumble together to their destination. Walls on either side and the fear of social isolation keep everyone in line, as each student slowly squeezes past one another on their trek to their next class.[/two_third]
Observations of student leadership can be similarly narrow. As young students develop their compasses through life, opportunities and attention are often awarded to the loudest in the room. Without strengthened self-confidence, deviation from the norm is discouraged. By watching who gets called on or who is respected amongst the student body, the environment reinforces the classic definition of a take-charge leader.
Throughout my recent high school experience, I have definitely noticed this trend. Personally, I think I was able to take leadership roles in student government and in clubs because of my passion for the work attached, but I know that my instinct to talk certainly helped. At some point in my life, I was encouraged to share my opinion honestly and often. I found satisfaction in having my questions answered, and I discovered it opened doors.
However, Youth In Philanthropy pushed me to reevaluate additional styles of leadership. When assigned the challenge to come to a consensus about awarding thousands of dollars to our favorite nonprofits, my group of 20 felt the task’s difficulty. A board of this size is not always easy to work with. Every member is so different in their approach, whether vocal or reserved. In a standard debate, the loudest opinion might prevail, while others that are ignored give up out of frustration. But when coming to a consensus, the opinion of every member is vital. We took our time, and with frequent votes to check-in on our progress, we were led to adapt and to reach out to every member of the group.
Then, it all seemed to click. It wasn’t as if a quieter person decided to yell across the room. Instead, while sticking to their beliefs, non-traditional types of leaders carefully put together strong arguments by listening and observing the perceived chaos in the room. After all, a philanthropic board empowers each individual member. Every kind of leader is allowed to flourish.
With the many strategies we learned to prompt collaboration, I witnessed so many ideas that had fallen through the cracks. I admired a peer’s strong feelings based on thorough reflection and personal experiences. I deeply respected someone’s willingness to compromise. And, I was able to see my fellow board members and I blossom. We not only developed our presentational skills using certain diction and visual aids, but most importantly, we left Youth In Philanthropy with more open minds.
I still have a lot left to learn, but I enter college with a new mindset when working with others. Don’t lead necessarily loudly, or even passively. Instead, lead situationally. Learn from every personality or set of values in the room and adapt accordingly. A true example of a great leader doesn’t have a single form.
Learn more about the Youth in Philanthropy program.