Titles alone don’t make the leader

I don’t know anything about high school junior Dave Husselbee’s school activities. But this kid has some real leadership skills.

Husselbee brought five identical Hawaiian shirts with him to school on picture day, then convinced over 60 students—and faculty—to wear the shirts in their yearbook photos, a prank that apparently involved a complex system of shirt-sharing as photographed students passed their floral-printed garb on to the next class.

He not only got the science department chair to don one, but also garnered some nice praise from his school principal. As she points out, the fact that Husselbee got both the students and the faculty involved is what makes this prank noteworthy.

Now, my message here is not that students should start orchestrating pranks to show leadership skills. For every harmless prank that’s lauded for its fun and creativity, there are 50 others that range from misguided to criminal that then need to be explained on college applications.

But leadership doesn’t just mean assuming office in a club and then sitting at the front of the room during the meetings. Leadership means seeing a place you want to go and then convincing other people to follow you.

Maybe you become a club president and help that group achieve new levels of success. Or maybe you organize group outings for your orchestra to go watch your community symphony. Maybe you wrangle volunteers to pick up trash at the beach. Maybe you find eight other students who also wish your school had AP Spanish and then convince a teacher to do an independent study with the group.

You don’t have to be a leader to get into college. But if leadership is something you enjoy or aspire to, think about how—and more importantly, where—you want to lead people. Then get busy leading. Don’t assume that a title alone makes a leader.

And here are a few suggestions from a past post about how to lead without holding a leadership position.