At the SSAT National Conference 2016, eight students from member school Melbourn Village College will come together to form our Student Journalist Team. They will attend workshop and mainstage sessions, interview speakers and delegates, and produce a post-event report. Here, they give some thoughts on some of the key questions in leadership…
What is leadership to you?
To me, leadership is when someone can positively influence others to maximise their potential and work towards a goal by giving advice and guidance. A leader is someone who guides people rather than commands. Leadership is the act of inspiring others to better themselves and achieve a desired goal or result. It is about motivation and determination to help people with the same ideas and visions.
Emily West, year 10
Leadership, to me, is when a person, or selection of people, successfully instruct or persuade a group of people to do something or change their thoughts about a subject. But this will only apply if the ‘leader’ sees themselves as a leader to those people; if they don’t believe they are a leader or they don’t believe they are leading those people successfully to their goal, they cannot be showing leadership.
Fred Close, year 10
Leadership can come in many forms: from leading your local football team to leading a country. I think that leadership is built on trust between the leader and those they are leading.
Olivia Greenaway, year 10
The act of being a leader: to be dominant but submissive when listening to others; to show authority but respect; and to give opinions that can be adapted when other people have better proposals. Leadership is a balancing act between not being ‘bossy’ but showing guidance. In my opinion, leadership involves a lot of listening. I believe it is important to accept other people’s views and to modify an initial plan if it will suit more people.
Emily Littlewood, year 11
“Leadership involves a lot of listening”
Leadership is order. To have a community without a leader is near impossible due to the fact that, as a human race, we disagree with each other as a natural reaction. A community without a leader would be disorganised and, like the book Lord of the Flies, chaos would ensue. A place without a leader is a place that will not develop and improve.
John Hinton, year 10
A leader can mean different things to different people in different situations. However, the basic idea of a leader still applies to every definition: someone who has a vision and using their skills can enable others and themselves to see the vision.
Mary Yates, year 10
A leader is a person who influences a team, in different ways. A leader sets direction and builds an inspiring vision for others to follow.
Rose Pedge, year 11
To me, leadership is simply the ability to lead a group of people through a task.
Daniel Arthur, year 10
What are the value and principles of a good leader?
Some of the values of being a good leader are trust, confidence, and integrity. If a leader portrays confidence, it makes it easier to show trust with them. When a level of trust between the leader and those they are leading has been established, it will subsequently make it easier for them to make the right decisions to benefit the group. Integrity is about being honest and making value-based decisions that won’t necessarily benefit the leader as an individual but will create the best for everyone.
Handling tasks under pressure is a key quality, as working ‘hot under the collar’ is a common occurrence for leaders. Persuasion is a key element, which you have to use to convince the group you’re leading to stick with your idea and to convince others to join you. Methodical working and processes, but also the skill to successfully improvise when things don’t go as planned… You can’t be a good leader if, when faced with trouble, you disappear under the radar, as if you were never responsible for it. If you blame it on someone or something else, or decline your responsibility for it, you are definitely not a good leader. A sense of engagement and of humour are also good qualities for leaders.
I think to be a good leader, you must be able to listen and work as a team. A leader must be respectful and trustworthy so other members of the team feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts and opinions. Open mindedness, consideration and patience are important characteristics of a good leader, as they need to be realistic in their goals while still be unique and confident in order to stand out.
I believe leadership is about behaviour, not position. A great example of this is a teacher: they take people’s strengths and adapt them for the best result, and guide them into other forms of learning. There is a difference between being a leader and being a manager. A manager takes a job and tells people what to do, they don’t get involved. A leader has the ability to tell people what to do, but must be willing to get involved themselves – lead by example.
“Leadership is about behaviour, not position”
A good leader needs to be someone who is able to listen to the people they are leading. A leader should also stand out from those around them, in a way that if a new person should come into their community, they would feel safe and confident in going to talk to the leader and could clearly distinguish them from others around them.
A good and successful leader needs to make important decisions on behalf of the group, even if this makes them unpopular. There are many connotations of a leader, including focus on the tasks at hand, confidence in what they believe in, transparency to ensure honesty throughout the group, integrity and strong moral principles, passion to fight for their values, vision to expand the idea and patience to cope with opposition well. While these are all vital, a leader must also be capable of accepting criticism and using it to thrive and grow the vision.
In my opinion, a good leader has to have good communication and respect towards the rest of the group. They have to be able to take everybody’s opinions into consideration and not be biased.
Some characteristics of a good leader are that one is fair and just, but also authoritative with the ability to instruct others. An effective leader will have the ability to think on their feet and take responsibility for a group of people, without needing to be asked.
Can anyone be a leader?
Yes, I think anyone can be a leader. There is no set definition of what a leader is, as it can mean various things to different people. I think that everyone is or has been a leader at some point. Leadership and being a leader is whatever you want it to be, on a small or large scale.
Yes, of course! It may be a complex job, but if people have the right qualities, they will be a successful leader. Not everyone is perfect, obviously, even as a leader. Leaders are a very important part of society. Without an inspirational leader, we would follow the actions of others and society would not move forward.
With confidence and communication skills, everyone has the foundations of becoming a good leader. I don’t believe in the phrase ‘natural leader’; I think some people are more confident than others but they might not have the other qualities a leader needs and therefore, they must try to be a good leader instead of being ‘naturally’ good at it.
I doubt that everyone can be a leader because to be able to make decisions and to accept the criticism that you will inevitably get, by being the leader, is demanding and not everyone is up to that task. I don’t feel that if I became a leader, my final decisions would my own; they would be group decisions; because I feel that I probably would not have the confidence to make a decision and not care whether my group would accept it or not.
“I probably would not have the confidence to make a decision and not care whether my group would accept it or not”
Many people are born with leadership skills; others have to learn to develop these skills. With the right passion and desire, anyone can learn to lead. Some, such as the monarchy, are born into leadership and they, if not already a natural leader, have to learn to have these characteristics.
I think that if someone is passionate about something then they could be a leader. Confidence is important as well: if they can’t show confidence they aren’t going to persuade others that they can be an efficient leader.
Everyone owns the qualities and characteristics to be a leader; however, a lot of people don’t show them or use them. Most people will need help and guidance to be able to lead. An example of this is when I became a senior prefect: I had the guidance of our deputy head and our head of year as to what to do.
I think that anyone can be a leader as long as that person has had suitable training and has the motivation to succeed. However, I feel that environmental factors, when growing up, can affect one’s ability to be an effective leader.
Real world examples of leaders
One person who stands out to me as a good leader is Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist for female education. Malala is strong, confident and inspirational. She isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in and has made it her goal in life to achieve equality between men and women in countries such as Pakistan, where she was shot for going to school and wanting an education.
In my opinion, Barak Obama is a good leader. He is generally regarded as the first black American president, which shows courage standing against others who doubted him; he’s stayed in office for eight years (the maximum amount of time for an American president); and, in his last four years, he has “promoted policies related to gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting”*
I could come up with an endless list of influential people and good leaders: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie… but I completely believe that one of the best leaders of his time and ours is Gandhi. He guided India to independence from Great Britain having led tens of thousands of people in protest. A man who isn’t afraid to get involved in his actions is a good leader; Gandhi was so involved in his protests that he was jailed various times. I believe Gandhi is a good leader because he treated everyone equally: he spoke to the ‘untouchables’ the same way as he would a man of power and didn’t discriminate against anyone for their race or status.
To find a real life example of someone whom is a really good leader is difficult. Everyone has times when they may fail or make a decision that won’t benefit the group they are leading. For example, David Cameron was faced with lots of important decisions and he knew that if he got it wrong, the whole country would be affected. He made the decision to have a referendum on leaving the EU, which was actually a brave thing to do; it didn’t end up going the way he wanted it to. He took that risk.
Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, and would just consider himself a simple monk. He was chosen by the Tibetan people to be their spiritual leader when he was just a child. As an adult his vision of the five point peace plan has taken him into discussions over non-violent struggles and environmental issues. His patience and integrity meant he was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949. He didn’t achieve power and influence, but he did become an inspiring leader.
An example of a good leader for me would be the captain of a sports team, who would have to show integrity by making choices that benefit the whole team. A different example of leadership would be a school headteacher: they have to show passion to their teachers and students to give them faith in the decisions that are made.
Winston Churchill stands out to me as a good leader. He led our country into and out of war and is widely regarded as a strong, capable leader who inspired others. Churchill sustained courage, took charge and maintained a positive attitude throughout his leadership of the country. His positive attitude kept the whole country’s hopes high and he played a strong role in ending the war.
One great example of a leader in the modern day is Aung San Suu Kyi, the now State Counsellor of Myanmar (Burma). She is an effective leader because she is strong and passionate about her beliefs and she led her country’s population through turmoil to democracy.
“A school headteacher has to show passion to their teachers and students to give them faith in the decisions that are made”
Effective student leadership in school
I think that students have an important role to play when it comes to leadership within schools. As the students are the ones who go to school, they deserve a say in the decisions that are made. There needs to be a good relationship between the teachers and students in order for them to communicate their ideas, thoughts and opinions on important subjects. One great way for students to contribute to discussions is by being on the school council.
Students don’t very often lead groups officially in schools, but they will lead groups of friends most definitely in what they strive to achieve. Even if it’s something rather unpleasant or nasty, they’re still leading… A student’s voice runs well in schools when: firstly, the student has some popularity; secondly, they have a good point that lots of people agree with and will support; thirdly, they have a good relationship with most teachers (if they respect the teachers, the teachers will respect them); and finally, they have the confidence to stand up, and accept defeat if it all goes wrong.
I am involved in various forms of leadership around the school, from head prefect to sports leader to trampolining and gymnastics assistant. I think that a student voice, whether it is mine or someone else’s, is very important. I like being a prefect, although it is a big responsibility, because I can speak on behalf of other students and represent the student body. Student voice is very important and, I think, sometimes overlooked. For events like picking teachers, I think it is essential to get students’ opinions on who would be the best teacher because it’s going to be them who have the classes with this teacher.
For a school to be really well run, a student voice or student council is essential. If students feel that the decisions are only ever being made by teachers, then they will probably feel those decisions are unjust and will rebel against that. However, to be able to have a really effective student council is very tricky, due to the fact that you have a lot of people to accommodate in the final decision.
The student voice, represented by school councils and/or prefects, aims to discuss the student body’s opinions and begin action into making their ideas a reality. Effective student voice in schools is when it causes change in and around the school. The most efficient way of running this is when a structured and organised meeting is held. The student voice needs a leader with confidence and enthusiasm, who can ensure decisions are made and present the outcomes to the teaching staff.
I think student leadership is very important within schools; without it, many schools and students wouldn’t be the same. Involving the students in the leadership in school can build confidence in pupils and develop communication skills. A student voice can get students more involved in the way the school is run and helps them to develop their leadership skills.
A student voice in schools is a council of voluntary or elected student members who represent the opinions of the students. They should put ideas forward to the teachers and the governing body. This runs well if the teachers consider carrying out some of the ideas put forward by the council. The members of the council should be changed regularly to allow for fresh and new ideas to be discussed.
An effective student leader is one who “has the confidence to stand up, and accept defeat if it all goes wrong”
The conference will be opened on Thursday 1 December by world-famous conductor Dominic Peckham (right). Read our interview with him here.