Becoming a Leader

leadership (1)

One thing I love about working in the field of Student Affairs is that I get to wear a lot of different hats.  Many of us in this field run programs, advise students, serve on committees, and willingly take on the “other duties as assigned.”  This semester, I had the great opportunity of teaching an introductory Leadership class, “Becoming a Leader.”  Along with the typical tasks of creating lesson plans and grading homework, I often found myself reflecting on whether I’m really walking the walk of the material I teach.

We work hard to help our students realize and develop their leadership skills, but how often do we reflect on our own ongoing development in the area of leadership?  My class textbook is John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.  Some examples of Maxwell’s leadership qualities are Charisma, Discernment, Generosity, Problem Solving, and Vision.  Overall, I agree with Maxwell’s ideas about leadership, but there is one sticking point that didn’t sit well with me.

In Maxwell’s chapter on Focus, he offers recommendations about how to focus our time and energy.  He suggests we focus “70 percent on strengths, 25 percent on new things, and 5 percent on areas of weakness.”  Hmm.  Really?  Just 5 percent on areas of weakness?  Maxwell’s logic is to minimize areas of weakness through delegating, and thereby sticking to things we do best.  To me, this seems like a cop out.  Do we settle with accepting that we’re great at X, but not so talented at Y, and therefore we just won’t bother trying to improve Y, and give the Y projects to someone else?

Through many professional activities – including serving on the board of The Jersey Alliance – I am becoming better at identifying my own leadership strengths and weaknesses. I think many Student Affairs professionals would agree that we want to model leadership for our students, but I wonder who would settle at only focusing 5 percent on our own areas of weakness.  Most professionals I know are driven to improve their skills, even when improvement requires a little more time and a lot more effort.

So as many of us complete the first half of our academic calendars and get ready to take a breather over the winter break, I challenge you to ask yourself: what are some areas of your professional development that need improvement, and what steps are you taking to grow?  When considering the skills that we’re not so great at, let’s not simply delegate when we enter the New Year and start the spring semester.  Let’s work at honing our trouble areas and making them sharper in 2013.  After all, no leader is ever fully developed.  Isn’t each one of us still becoming a leader?

Enjoy the holiday season and a well-deserved winter recess!

Maya Sarno

Member At-Large


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