Ask Questions to Develop Leadership

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Marie Lindquist, Associate Dean of Students


Twenty-seven percent of adults in the United States have a college education. A smaller percentage receives an education from a top-tier liberal arts institution like Rhodes. I would bet that all students who attend Rhodes believe they can be leaders (and all their parents will agree). If Rhodes students take advantage of their experiences here, they are prepared to contribute to society in significant ways. They will have the educational background, the skill set, and the applied experiences that prepare them. So, what can leadership programs do for them?

Our students can graduate prepared for leadership if they engage in the process of asking the right questions and pursuing the answers while at Rhodes. Leadership programs center on that process. This is accomplished partially through programming. More importantly, it is accomplished through lots of conversations with faculty, staff, fellow students, work supervisors, parents, etc—people who are open to helping students explore and discover who they are and what they are about.

The first set of questions I urge students to pursue revolves around finding passions. What do they love to do? What topics compel them to read more than they are required for class? What issues do they care so much about that they are willing to devote their lives to them? These are the questions I challenge our students to consider from the beginning. If they can find their passions, they will discover their motivations to learn, develop and experience. They will find a way to contribute significantly to their causes.

In this questioning, it is important to discuss the skills students possess or need to develop for success in those areas of passion. In addition, exploring personal and community values should occur so ethical decision-making will be made.

Leadership development is a continual process in which each discovery informs the next set of decisions to be made. Do the concepts students learn in class match what they observe in real-world situations such as internships, service, study abroad, research, student organizations, etc.? If students learn about an issue that intrigues them in their experiences beyond the classroom, is it an area for further research or study? If they discover skills they need to develop, what classes or opportunities will help them learn those skills?

Students engaging in this questioning will seek work that utilizes their talents to envision and create a better world. This is what it takes to be a leader. It isn’t about the title or the position. It is finding ways to use a skill set to contribute in significant ways. It is pursuing the lifelong job of making a vision about the world become a reality. This is leadership.

Please join me in asking these questions of your sons and daughters. I believe you will get as excited as I do about the answers.

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