Where do leaders come from?

Is it necessary to hold a club office, or found an organization, or otherwise do something worthy of a leadership title to impress colleges? No. Not even close. There are countless roles on college campuses that require students from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to fill and flourish in them. Your particular skills can come from formal leadership positions, but they could also come from volunteering, playing the tuba, holding a part-time job, or virtually anything else that you cared enough about to commit to it.

But while the formal positions and titles aren’t prerequisites for college, the behavior and impact of real leadership is always appealing. And thankfully, there are plenty of ways to lead without running for office or telling people what to do.

If you’d like some more perspective on just exactly what leadership is, how it’s viewed by colleges, and why those experiences are important, I hope you’ll check out these two reads.

First, a past post of mine, including the articles that are referenced and linked within the post. And this piece, Take Me To Your Leaders: What College Admission Deans Are Looking For, by Brennan Bernard, a high school counselor and education writer. Bernard asked a number of college admissions officers to share their thoughts on what it means to lead. Don’t expect a roadmap with a list of activities and roles that will satisfy the definition, because as you’ll see, their answers vary.

Here’s an example:

“Leadership is deep engagement in an area of interest—not necessarily an officer in an organization. Rather than the president of the student government, I love the student who has been the chair of the dance cleanup committee for a few years. Who wants that job? And yet, she consistently gets a few students who will stay late after the dance to clean up the detritus left by classmates. That, to me, is leadership. No accolades but lots of commitment and follow through.”

Deb Shaver, Director of Admission, Smith College

Yep, that’s good leadership.

I hope the differences in their answers will relieve, not frustrate students. There are lots of ways to lead. Almost certainly, one of them will be a natural fit for you, something that you enjoy and are good at. If you commit your time to that kind of endeavor, you’ll learn a lot, you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll impress colleges.

It turns out that leaders can come from everywhere.