The time to build new leaders is now

We’re all very familiar with this situation: an organization that was very weak is now stronger than you could have imagined because of its strong leaders. However, all of these leaders are getting ready to graduate. Now you’re concerned about the future of the organization – will all of its momentum decrease as a result of these members graduating? All of a sudden, you start questioning your strategy for sustaining the organization: Have you spent time cultivating enough leaders? Are these leaders young enough to sustain the organization AND are they ready to take on the task of taking the organization to the next level? Do they have the knowledge to make this happen? As you answer no to these questions, panic starts setting in…

Unfortunately, one of the biggest mistakes we make in cultivating leadership is not cultivating it as early as possible. We spend so much time focusing on our rising leaders or already established leaders, that we forget a very important segment that deserves our focus: emerging leaders. Emerging leaders are our newest leaders; they are the ones we see potential in, even if they don’t see it in themselves. They deserve our time, attention, and most importantly, the knowledge to help them be successful. When was the last time you spent some time with this group of members beyond an introduction to your organization and/or new member education process? In order for us to build strong organizations, programs, and campuses, we need to invest time in emerging leaders because before we know it, our strongest leaders are graduating and there’s no one there to pick up where those individuals left off. But how exactly do we do that?

Here’s how you can start:

  • Take them under your wing and help them understand what leadership is – have them observe you and ask you questions about your approach. For you, that means you have to model the way.
  • Help them understand the leader they want to be by asking tough questions and challenging who they want to be in a supportive manner.
  • Enable them to take on a project or initiative and give them feedback that helps them understand what they did right and what they can improve on.
  • Encourage them when they do a good job or to run for a position – let them know what characteristics make them good for that role so they know why it is important for them to pursue it.

One of my favorite memories as a student affairs professional involved an emerging leader. I remember her willingness to want to be involved and make a difference, but she didn’t have the right tools to be able to make an impact. I decided to spend some time with her, helping her understand what her strengths and areas of opportunities were, how to navigate leadership, and how to live her core values. By challenging the thoughts and practices that were not in line with the person she wanted to be, and supporting her innovative ideas and desire to make radical change in her organization, I was able to witness her growth from a timid and immature first year student to a strong and trustworthy leader by the time she was a senior. It took time, but the knowledge she gained about values congruence and leadership practices aided her in becoming one of the strongest leaders our fraternity and sorority community has seen. When we debriefed her undergraduate experience, she mentioned her interactions with me as critical to her becoming an effective leader. My approach to working with her included the techniques listed above. It worked well! She also shared how the knowledge she gained through workshops and institutes had a profound impact on how she approached leadership. The mix of one-on-one contact with a supportive person and good leadership educational content is a great way to build new leaders!

Do you have some new leaders to build? The CAMPUSPEAK interactive workshop, Building New Leaders, focuses on giving emerging leaders tools to be successful within a college environment and beyond. By helping participants understand their core values, giving them a framework for strong leadership, and devoting some time to action planning, those attending are able to gain knowledge on how to kick-start their leadership journey.