(Editor’s note: Fourth in a series of reflections on student life at West Texas A&M University.)
One of the critical aspects of student life on a college campus is for students to get used to, be comfortable with, and appreciate the power of leadership. Students go to college ultimately to prepare for the next stage in life, and the success of the next stage, usually a career, depends on strong leaders. The importance of feeling comfortable saying “yes” (to new experiences, to things that challenge you, etc.) provides opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Engagement is not just a strategy for academic success, but a life skill. Engaging in studies makes a student stronger, and engaging with other people and organizations leads to better friendships at work, making you a better worker, colleague, and eventually leader. Gallup has a lifelong interest in employee engagement and its importance in leadership. They define employee engagement as “…the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace”. Many of the habits and experiences that students have when engaged in studies correlate with the importance of involvement and enthusiasm when students arrive in the workplace. Universities have a fundamental responsibility to engage students in subjects early and often in the educational experience. This is one of the only differences between online education and on-campus education. Gallup also suggests that “employees make decisions and take actions every day that can affect your workforce and your organization.” Not only do engaged students get a better personal experience, but they affect others and eventually the experiences of everyone involved in college life.
Student life as a preparation for professional life requires that students learn to take positive risks. Anne Voller, vice president of talent acquisition at Macy’s, said, “The ability to manage change is one of the most important attributes we look for in new hires. I need you to be on board. comfortable being uncomfortable.” Engaged students can practice leadership, service, new ideas, and be “rugged individualists” in what is considered a laboratory environment. Penalties for making a mistake in the “leadership lab” of a good college campus are much less severe than in the workplace. College leadership roles allow individuals to step into deeper waters where there are protective safety nets. By risk-taking here, we refer to informed risk in contexts that positively impact student experiences. Failure can be a product of learning, as long as students seriously give it “the old college try”. Even in the professional world of commerce, smart leaders accept failure as the price of progress. According to a anecdotal storyin all likelihood more fact than fiction, “Tom Watson, then chairman of IBM, called a vice president into his office to discuss a failed development project that cost IBM an estimated $10 million Expecting to be fired, the VP presented his letter Tom Watson Jr. shook his head: “You’re definitely not leaving after we just gave you a $10 million education.”
Unfortunately, too many well-meaning universities try to shield students from deliberate risk-taking. In a IPU history 35 years ago, it was reported that students were staying away from difficult classes. It is a form of risk aversion and admission of incapacity. Students who avoid challenging coursework and who do not seek leadership opportunities that push their limits, limit their own growth, and such behavior is likely to continue in their future positions in business, industry, or government .
According Gallup, leaders tend to value the best managers. This means that people who are able to complete tasks on time, within budget and within the scope of the mission are influential in the workplace. There is a balance between leadership and management in every person who functions in the workplace. All leaders also have a management component to their work. Likewise, all managers have a requirement for leadership in their daily work.
The leadership commitment for students on campus should also include a significant dose of follow-up. Good followers can and should practice the art of following. In effect suggests several skills for a good follow-up. Skills such as ego management, loyalty, humility, work ethic, courage, active listening, tact, teamwork, good judgment, adaptability, competence and critical thinking. In contexts that require teamwork, which is every conceivable employment and interpersonal environment, leadership and follow through are essential. It has been said that a person cannot be “above someone” until he has been “under someone”. In other words, you can’t lead effectively if you can’t follow effectively. All good universities are full of these types of opportunities, in student government, many leadership, service, and professional development organizations, and students should seek out these opportunities.
Students should be challenged daily to be good leaders and good followers. Ultimately, these skills will enable a successful transition into the world of work and form the basis for the noble calling of engaged citizenship. This is the purpose of a university.
Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available on https://walterwendler.com/.
Mike Knox is the Vice President of Enrolled Student Engagement and Success at West Texas A&M University