How and why to be a leader

It’s April—besides April Fool’s and National Hairball Awareness day, the 17th–23rd is National Student Leadership Week. Leadership sounds frightening at first, but there are lots of ways you can be a leader that don’t involve becoming class president. For example, you could lead a group of friends in an impromptu beatbox competition. But it’s important to think about leadership skills that can go on your résumé, too.

Future employers and colleges are often looking for leadership skills. The good news is that you can start building these in high school in ways you may not have thought of yet.

Here are a few things you can get involved with, starting now:

Key Club

Building leadership skills is part of the mission of Key Club, where you’ll volunteer to help children and your community. In the process, you can practice being a leader by:

  • Serving as a board member (president, vice president, etc.) of your high school chapter
  • Coordinating club meetings and events
  • Serving in leadership roles at the district and international levels
  • Attending classes and trainings offered by Kiwanis, the organization that oversees Key Club
  • Participating in volunteer activities

+ More info on Key Club.

If your school has a Key Club, talk to the advisor (usually a teacher) about how to get involved. If your school doesn’t have a chapter yet, talk to a teacher about starting one.

Marching band, choir, and sports

Within a marching band, choir, glee club, or sports team, there are often student leaders who help the teachers or coaches. As a member, you might develop other skills that can help with your leadership potential. These include:

  • Team/group work. You’ll have to work with others to produce quality sounds, rhythm, or team strategy.
  • Time management. Practice and rehearsals take time—learning to balance that with schoolwork, family time, your social life, jobs, and more are skills that all leaders should know.
  • Conflict management. Whether it’s a disagreement over who should get the solo or who should be on the first-string team, conflict within a group is inevitable. As a leader you’ll have to work with others to resolve these issues and try to keep
    everyone happy.

Student council

As with the other types of organizations, getting involved in the student council is a great way to develop leadership skills. Here’s how:

  • Running for office usually involves public speaking, which is a great skill to practice.
  • Serving as a member of the student council (whether president or general member) can teach you leadership skills like working with others, time management, budget tracking, and more.
  • You’ll be acting as a representative of your student body in your interactions with school staff, administration, and the greater community. This is a great chance to flex your negotiation skills.

Start thinking about what you can get involved in now and what you can start next year. You can also start prepping for your future by volunteering or getting a summer job, both of which can help you develop those leadership skills.

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Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.


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Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Student Health 101. She has also edited collegiate textbooks for Cengage Learning and creating language learning materials for the US Department of Defense, libraries, and other educational institutions. Her BA in Spanish is from the University of New Hampshire.