Leadership training is critical for students as they forge their path forward in pursuit of personal and professional goals

3 reasons college students need leadership training

Leadership training is critical for students as they forge their path forward in pursuit of personal and professional goals

Students often hear professors quote Shakespeare: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, no offense to the bard, but it’s hard to argue that some are born great when so few people seem to be able to naturally lead. The consensus is that leaders are made, not born.

So what does that mean for college students? No matter where they are in their academic careers, they can orient their lives toward success by developing the traits every leader needs to make a difference.

Leadership training is especially important for students in a period of deep exploration of their likes, careers, personalities, and management styles. It’s the reason there are more than 1,000 extracurricular leadership programs on college campuses. (And probably the reason professors keep quoting Shakespeare.)

Even for those who are already campus leaders, leadership training programs are more essential and relevant than ever–here’s why:

1. Students need to learn more soft skills to prepare them for the workplace

“Leadership” is too often used as a vague umbrella term for programs that don’t have clear outlines and goals for teaching skills. This is perhaps contributing to the perceived skills gap among employers and college graduates–few business leaders find the skills they seek in recent graduates. At the same time, many students believe they’ve learned them. For instance, 33 percent of employers believe college graduates are proficient in leadership compared to 70 percent of graduates.

This may be because most college leadership programs are not grounded in leadership theories but instead on “personality inventories, heuristics, and other non-theoretical (and non-leadership) approaches,” according to the 2012 Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership Institutional Survey. Without an academically influenced focus, some programs become amorphous blends of personal development and self-improvement, leading to only temporary learning.

Though self-discovery is useful, students can’t change their leadership style for the better unless they examine and apply concrete leadership theories. Students need this robust foundation to turn self-knowledge to self-improvement. It’s why the Leadership Institutional Survey suggests students learn “the value of evidence-based approaches to leadership”–approaches that offer students objective ways to evaluate their leadership growth.

2. Leaders’ experiences provide valuable life and career lessons

The fruits of good leadership are obvious–what’s not obvious are the challenges that preceded those results. For instance, students may respect an athlete, CEO, or politician who has proven themselves to be a good leader. But this surface admiration doesn’t teach students the lessons these leaders had to learn to advance in their field.

Think of how an inspirational quote sounds grating from the mouth of an ineffective leader. Anyone can echo an influencer’s words or anecdotes–but a leadership program puts these quotes in the context of a more complex story, helping students apply insightful lessons to their own lives, not just their desktop wallpaper. This gives way to measured emulation instead of superficial parroting of someone else’s success blueprint–one that worked for just one person.

Leadership training can harness the stories of these real-world leaders to give more complete examples of how someone becomes a respected individual. The more leaders presented to students, the better. In-depth presentations, Q&A panels, and biography study groups are some of the platforms in which students receive the whole picture of different leadership journeys, making it easier to apply to their own lives.

Our college leadership program at the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) has harnessed the power of this idea and offers members broadcasts of thoughtful conversations with leaders in business, politics, entertainment, and technology (think Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, President Barack Obama, and Ariana Huffington). These livestreams combine questions from students with speakers’ well-known insights, serving as a background to what members learn in the NSLS training program. And mirroring the experience of working with outside consultants in the business world.

3. Leadership skills prepare students for real-world challenges

Yesterday’s leaders were expected to guide an organization or a group of people working toward a goal. Today and in the years to come, the changing world requires more of its leaders than ever before.

In its 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey, Deloitte notes that traditional leadership called for a focus on leaders’ “personal performance,” but a changing world has shifted focus to “their ability to foster team performance” with others. And that’s just one thing that’s changed. Twenty-first-century leaders need to constantly stay updated on changes in new technologies and the expectations of varied employee demographics.

Leaders need to navigate not just the needs of those they lead but also the way their organizations affect the world around them in varying issues, from climate change to diversity awareness. Leadership programs teach the resiliency that students need to encounter these changes and gives them a training ground to practice this flexibility.

College students have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to absorb these new leadership standards to prepare themselves for the incoming leadership gap. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a third of the labor force will be 65 by 2024, and the Boomer generation will work in less than 10 years–it’s no wonder companies are currently spending billions on leadership development. In college, students get just a taste of the ways they can impact the world through campus clubs and involvement in community initiatives. It’s the perfect time to learn as much as possible about the world around them and their place in it–and leadership training programs are uniquely equipped to shepherd students through these journeys.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool Media Contributors

Oops! We could not locate your form.