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Redefining Leadership
Board Editorial
May 23, 2018

Stepping up into a new grade can be both an exciting and frightening experience for returning students. While members of the Class of 2018 prepare to leave campus, some juniors have already taken on new leadership positions that will continue in the 2018-19 year. These titles can come in many different forms, for example: captain of a sports team, editor of a student publication, proctor, peer counselor, or head of a student alliance.

The Scroll Editorial Board believes that at Deerfield, leadership roles are sometimes misconstrued or not used to their full capacity. As a prestigious boarding school that strives for excellence in all realms, Deerfield is an environment where students often feel as if they need to build up an impressive résumé listing multiple leadership positions in order to stand out in college admissions. The process can be gruelling; in the competition to rise to the top in various extracurricular activities, people may pretend to be much more enthusiastic about an activity than they actually are. In other cases, someone might earn a position simply from continued involvement with an activity over several years, regardless of the tangible contributions he or she has made.

Credit: Madeline Lee

We believe that Deerfield students can benefit most from redefining the role of a leader in their communities and organizations. From a young age, we are generally taught to view leaders as people who are the most vocal during discussions and who assign tasks to other members of the group.

But oftentimes, we fail to realize that we don’t always need a title to positively influence others. When we do not have any special title in a group, it can be tempting to sit back and watch other people do the work. Conversely, we may feel as if everything we do automatically qualifies as the actions of an effective leader just because we have a leadership position. Both of these attitudes are harmful to our community.

The Scroll Board defines leadership as influencing others’ personal growth and maximizing their contributions to the community. In February, all juniors attended a leadership training meeting led by guest speaker Mike Weber. In his talk, he emphasized that the key to being a successful leader lay in forging meaningful relationships with peers to influence them positively. Many juniors shared afterward that his perspective on leadership was one they had not considered before.

This description is certainly more abstract and harder to grasp than the widespread image of an assertive and overbearing member of a group.  However, it suggests that true leaders inspire their peers and guide each member to contribute to the group’s overall success. They are selfless and puts the concerns of the group before their own interests. Most of all, they understand that selflessness actually leads to greater good.

Consider weekly cleanup duties in dorms. There’s nothing inherently wrong about yelling at other people on your hall, “What are you doing sitting around in your room? Get up and start taking out the trash!” But what if we told people instead, “Let’s take out the trash — it only takes a minute, and our housekeepers will enjoy a less stressful morning tomorrow!” This kind of invitation to collaborate is much more likely to instill motivation in members of the hall, which can make a lasting change.

Leadership is qualified by the kind of processes the leaders instill, not the results they are able to accomplish. The Deerfield community can benefit immensely by adapting this process-driven definition of a leader. Whether or not we have a leadership position, and no matter how large or small our associations and communities are, we have the opportunity to offer a helping hand to our peers.