by Imani Nichols
Prior to coming to college, I was spoon-fed the “everyone is a leader” narrative. Without questioning, I digested this narrative. I considered myself a leader. My peers and teachers often told me that I was a leader. I surrounded myself with peers that were leaders. So, it’s clear why I accepted the “everyone is a leader” narrative so readily.
Then, I came to college.
I go to University of Virginia (UVA) and one of the school’s selling points for Type A high school seniors is student self-governance. Most of the important institutions at UVA such as our honor system and university judiciary committee are run exclusively by students. One would assume that UVA is a breeding ground where “everyone is a leader” is exemplified regularly.
Although student self-governance has pros including investing in the University and having the freedom to bring initiatives to fruition without the micromanagement of a faculty advisor, students sometimes misuse it. I sometimes interact with student leaders who’ve ascended to the pinnacle of executive committees, but they take weeks to answer an email or they pass their responsibilities off to others.
This is understandably frustrating, but the best way to combat this is to exemplify good leadership in your own environment. Don’t let the questionable leadership of others deter you from being a good leader.
For instance, if you’re a Resident Advisor, you can respond to your residents’ emails and text messages in a timely fashion. If you’re President of an organization and you’re noticing that the Secretary hasn’t been attending meetings, reach out to her, make sure that she’s okay, and express your concerns to her. If you notice that a fellow co-chair isn’t fulfilling her duties, you may offer to help her out.
For those that aim to exert responsible leadership, we can’t always be leaders, either. Sometimes, we are in over our heads and we have to have the humility and grace to acknowledge this.
Furthermore, when we find ourselves in this scenario, we need to let the person with more knowledge come in and lead. In this configuration, we will find ourselves sitting back and taking notes. This is fine! In fact, this is the integral part of a good leader – understanding that you don’t always have the answer.
A more accurate narrative of leadership is that some will lead and some will be led. Good leaders will sometimes find themselves shifting between leading and being led and that’s okay.
When faced with people who have questionable leadership, step up to the plate in your own environment and make sure that you are the best and most responsible leader that you can be. You never know who may be looking to you to define leadership.
Imani Nichols is a student at University of Virginia graduating in 2017. She is considering Media Studies or American Studies as her major. After college, Imani plans to consult for a management consulting firm in Chicago and earn an MBA. She enjoys Forté webinars and working out.