Choosing student leaders

The organizations you’ve devoted yourself to can continue to grow and thrive if you and your team choose great successors. Read on for some tips on how to find folks who will not only continue the great work you’ve started, but help the group grow and evolve even more.

1. Consider diversity: a former teacher is going to bring different skills and opinions than a former banker; an Indian national will provide a different perspective than a native of Atlanta. Putting together a diverse leadership team will both ensure your constituents are well-represented, and provide a great variety of experiences and viewpoints.

2. Play devil’s advocate and look for someone else who does as well. If you have potential leaders who don’t fit with what your organization has typically sought out, don’t dismiss those people out of hand. Try to consider what this different perspective might bring to the group – and why you initially might not have imagined this person as a leader. One of our clients, who was operationally-focused and detail-oriented, had been partnered with someone who was focused on high-level views and grand strategies. While both noted there was sometimes tension in their working relationship, they both indicated a strength as a team that they could not have achieved if their teammates had been more like them!

3. Look for team dynamics: while you want to have opposing viewpoints, make sure those opposite sides are capable of getting along. Keep an eye on potential leaders as they start running smaller committees and events: how do they address conflict, or solicit feedback? Seek out people who work well together and respect their fellow group members. For instance in our example above, both leaders noted how the team outcomes were better with the other person on board.

4. Consider partnerships: Putting together a team doesn’t just mean finding individuals to contribute. You can find like-minded teams elsewhere to share some of the organizational load. For instance, Energy student groups and Sustainability-oriented student groups often have activities that can overlap, such as conference planning. Instead of finding one person from each group to contribute full-time, you can lower the workload on each person by sharing or removing duplicative tasks.

5. Seek someone who can give their time: while many people have great intentions of giving their time to a leadership position, if they are participating in full-time recruiting, even the best of intentions may well go by the wayside. If you can find a student leader who is not job-searching (employer-sponsored, or returning to a family business), you can count on that person to put in the time necessary when, perhaps, other leaders cannot commit quite as much – especially during the fall when the group will be trying to engage those incoming first-years!