Leading Through Action (or, Not Everything is for Your Resume)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of campus leadership. It’s the sort of phrase that my school likes to print on admissions brochures as a way to distract people from our lack of a football team. We even offer a leadership certificate (it is as ridiculous as you would imagine), and there are awards for leaders, and we talk a lot about how the liberal arts Train People to Lead.
The longer I’m at school, though, the more that it’s becoming irritatingly clear to me that there is a difference between being a campus leader–getting certificates and learning the psychology of leadership and racking up the most volunteer hours–and actually leading people on campus in creating something. The idea of hacking college, for me, has always been about the latter far more than the former. Talking to my friends at school, it’s become more and more clear that I’m not the only one who feels like this.
Being a campus leader is exclusive–there are only so many club spots to fill or awards to earn. Leading on campus is inclusive–literally anyone can make something neat, whether it’s a website about how to hide your beer cans, or an app that helps students, or a video that Ashton Kutcher tweeted about. Anyone who works and who has an idea can do something useful and interesting–you can have an entire campus of leaders because the world is full of things that need to be fixed and the world is so, so much bigger than just your campus.
What worries me is the fact that the people who I know are doing the neatest work on (and off!) campus outside of the campus leadership framework are increasingly alienated from and frustrated with their campuses because of a lack of support for these endeavors which show the initiative and drive and creative thinking that college is supposedly preparing us for in favor of putting resources towards leadership certifications.
Alienating the people who are creating interesting things is not what any university wants or should want to do. It’s like funding networking workshops and completely refusing to give money to people who find something they want to make as a result of your event.
I don’t know if there’s any way to solve the conflict, really. Schools have no official structure to keep track of unofficial projects of their students. Students are encouraged to stay within the official framework the school provides rather than investing in 20-percent projects outside of class which may yield something interesting, and they either grow frustrated with the inability to make a difference while competing for limited leadership spots, or they become leaders without taking advantage of any of the school’s resources–at which point they might as well not be students.
So, with that being said, I’d like to ask–what cool things are you guys doing as leaders on or off campus? Do you feel ignored by your school? Supported? I want to know.