Becoming a Leader in College

A course of students being taught

There are many different definitions of what it means to be a leader. Parents may define it as staying out of trouble and not “following the crowd.” Academic institutions may define it as achieving academic excellence in the form of GPAs and quantifiable resumes. Society may define it as taking on as many responsibilities as possible with evidence of your body being on the verge of breaking down, but justifying it by calling it “hustling.”

This article aims to expose why hustle culture is toxic and, in exchange, how to become a healthy leader in college.

The first step in the process of obtaining a leadership role is checking your heart. You must ask yourself, “Why do I want to become a leader?” If your ultimate goal is just to boost your resume there’s a good chance that you won’t find fulfillment in that. If you are aiming for accolades to be attached to your name you will probably end up disappointed. You must be intentional about what you are trying to achieve within your leadership role. It’s important to seek out roles that will allow you the ability to use your skills and fulfill your passion, while simultaneously being a role that will challenge you to grow.

There are many traditional ways to become a leader here at Indiana University. You can apply for leadership roles through involvement with student organizations. I recommend experiencing clubs at the standard membership level first to better understand the student organization and better assess whether or not taking on a leadership role is the best decision for you. If there is something you’re passionate about but don’t already see an organization on campus for it, you can apply to create your own student organization. Another way you could obtain a leadership role is by applying to become a Resident Assistant (RA) at one of the various residence halls on campus.

Professor lecturing outside

Have you ever heard the saying “Not everything that glitters is gold?” Leadership is tough work—this isn’t meant to steer you away, just to prepare you. I have compiled a list of things I wish I knew before gaining leadership roles, as well as things I have learned along the way.

Compassion fatigue is real and can be detrimental to your well-being. If you don’t already know, compassion fatigue is when you are so emotionally exhausted that you begin to become desensitized to things that you were once sensitive to. Some refer to it as secondary traumatic stress.

Be mindful not to problematize everything. You will hit bumps in the road, things will go wrong, expectations won’t always be met, but all of that is okay. It’s a part of life. It’s a part of the growing process. You must learn to roll with the punches. Be flexible and adaptable.

You cannot water others if you have no water left in your cup to pour out. Taking on leadership roles will give you the opportunity to mentor other people. Through mentoring people you will notice how sometimes compassion fatigue will occur. In order to combat this, I personally pray and read my bible. Maintaining my relationship with Jesus is where I get my refill of refreshing water. Self care—whatever that looks like for you—is not only beneficial but it is crucial to your success as a leader.

You cannot give all of your availability away. When someone asks when are you free DO NOT tell them every single slot of available time that you have. It’s important to make time for yourself to decompress from each day, and just to do things that you typically enjoy.

There’s a difference between rest and sleep. Ever wake up and still feel exhausted? That’s what I’m talking about. The same way we are supposed to give ourselves study breaks for our brain, we need to also give ourselves mental and emotional breaks. Unplug from the world. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it.

Patience is crucial. If you don’t have it you will be forced to learn it. Enough said.

It’s okay to ask for help. We live in a culture that idolizes independence. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help. I’ve learned many ways to combat heavy work loads, one being delegating tasks among other leaders.

Accountability is so important. Find a mentor and or an accountability partner. This person should know your goals, values, and passions and hold you accountable to them.

Beware of people pleasing. Check your intentions daily.

Time management and organizational skills are crucial.

Leadership goes beyond titles and roles. I once heard that “great leaders don’t seek power, they are called by necessity.”  Leadership is often tied to sacrifice. I am an O’Neill student and our school slogan is “Lead for the Greater Good.” I honestly feel like there is no other way to lead. Sometimes being a leader is putting someone else’s needs above your own. Sometimes leadership is showing up early and leaving late. Sometimes leadership is doing good without anyone acknowledging, appreciating, or giving accolades for it.

I believe leadership is seeing a need, meeting it, and acting upon it. Leadership is at times self sacrificial, however the joy that is found in assisting another person or a group of people cannot be compared.

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