Leadership on Campus

by Tina Lin | 9/26/18 2:00am

Leadership is a broad term, but it’s something that many people strive toward. Often times, the type of leadership that people gravitate toward is the kind that comes with a title, and we are often misled to think that the only significant leaders are those who head an organization or have a formal title to their name. In reality, leadership encompasses much more than that. Leadership requires personality, the ability to interact with others, compassion and the motivation to serve. It is something that can help a person grow.

So, what drives someone to become a leader?

Nathan Yu ’19, founder and president of Dartmouth Mixed Reality Club, or DXR, wanted to share his passion for virtual reality and augmented reality with others. He sought to provide a welcoming social environment for individuals to learn more about the real-life applications of the technology, try out some virtual reality games and to interact with others who share the same interest. 

David Wong ’19 is a member of the 2019 delegation of Palaeopitus Senior Society, former co-president for Colleges Against Cancer, development editor for the Dartmouth Law Journal and chair of public relations for the Student Center for Research, Writing and Information Technology. He was driven to these positions for two reasons. One was that he could follow through with what he had promised to do and the other was that he desired to be challenged and to improve his leadership abilities. 

After becoming a leader, people grow, change and learn from the situations and circumstances that they face. Many do not realize the multitude of tasks that a leader has to handle until they are placed in the position and have to deal with minor things, such as general logistics and communications, as well as major things, such as fundraising and analytics. 

With regards to his position in DXR, Yu said that by forming relationships with the club’s members to ensure that it caters to everyone’s interests, he has become more social. Through these challenges, he has come to appreciate existing structures and the hard work behind the scenes necessary to build them. 

Wong also experienced growth through his positions of leadership.

    “I learned to communicate with others and be able to grapple with a multitude of opinions, reconcile different opinions,” Wong said. He also referenced how he learned to work with others and guide them toward a common vision.

Both leaders have learned skills and qualities that could not be taught through purely academics. These positions of leadership on campus present students with real-life situations and the skills gleaned from those can be translated into the work life. 

What characteristics are crucial to being a leader? Robin Frye, who manages the Management and Leadership Development Program for the Rockefeller Center, give an explanation.

“Leadership is so nuanced and individual that there can be so many opinions about what makes a good leader,” Frye said. “The best leaders know which skills are needed in any given situation, with good leadership skills meaning, for instance, knowing that a group needs someone to listen or if they need a spokesperson.”

For Dartmouth students, who often pile so much on their plates each term, Frye mentioned a particular challenge. “It’s important to have integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do and being thoughtful when committing to doing something,” she said. 

   Frye also explains what exactly makes up the idea of leadership.  

   “Leadership is broken down into: self-awareness, situational awareness and technical competence,” said Frye. Self-awareness is being conscious of different personality types to know what people are already good at and what to improve on. Situational awareness is being aware of others and how they operate in order to determine effectiveness. Lastly, technical competence involves negotiation, business writing and public speaking.

While Frye discussed the technicalities of being a leader, including aspects such as the toolset needed to combat potential problems that arise, Yu elaborated on the emotional qualities a leader should have. 

Yu sums up the key characteristics into three words: passion, empathy and optimism. A leader must be passionate about whatever she leads and have an overwhelming desire to share her passion with others. She is also able to foster a strong sense of community and make the most informed decisions for everyone. Above all, the best leaders exude optimism and positivity at all times, becoming the key differentiator between organizations that fail to survive and organizations that thrive.

Leaders take all shapes and forms, and it is very difficult to narrow down the characteristics that a leader should have. Different people have different ways of dealing with situations and have different ways of thinking and interacting with others. However, it is important to be able to understand what type of a leader one is, and to understand what types of personalities the members of the team have, so that it is easier to optimize plans of action. 

While leadership is typically regarded as a specific position, leadership can be anywhere and everywhere. Yu sums this up very nicely by quoting his favorite role model, author Simon Sinek. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”