Valerie L. Holmes, the Associate Director for Student Development Services, explains why leadership is so important. One of her responsibilities include working with leadership development. She has a Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis in Higher Education Administration and has worked for several other universities. This is her 10th year working in student affairs, so given her background, she was a great person to talk to about the importance of leadership as it relates to students.
Chicago College Life: What is leadership and what are your perceptions about it?
Valerie L. Holmes: The most widely known definition of leadership comes from a group of scholars in higher education. It is defined as a relational process of people together, attempting to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good. What that means is, there has to be a positive and mutually beneficial relationship between the people involved and that they are attempting to accomplish positive change. For me personally though, although that is the definition of leadership that I teach most, I think there are very specific attributes to good leaders. Not everyone has the ability or capacity to master those attributes and I think that leadership can be both positive and negative.
CCL: Why is it important for students to learn leadership? How does it benefit them academically?
VLH: I think it’s important for students to learn about leadership because of what I call personal leadership discovery. In doing that, one finds out about him or herself, their personality, likes and dislikes, how they react and behave during times of stress and challenge or celebration and joy, how they treat other people, what they like about how other people treat them, etc. They learn about congruency between their own beliefs and actions and how to interact with people and yield a positive result.
It’s beneficial to them in several different ways. It teaches responsibility, accountability and how to think critically, which is important for students. It helps to strategically think about one’s life, as it relates to other people, and what it takes to be a support to someone. I think it also exposes them to different concepts that challenge their own past views of things and therefore allows them make their own decisions. In my opinion, leadership experiences and concepts are the things that connect the classroom learning with experiential learning. It brings them together and solidifies the collegiate experience.
CCL: What about learning leadership for a future career?
VLH: Leadership in a career is very important because employers are looking for students who have very specific skills. Not just as it relates to the actual field but skills that happen to be general. Those are the skills of communication and interpersonal relations. Employers are having a harder time finding graduates that have these skills. Students can be highly capable of doing the technical part of the job, but if they don’t have those general skills, they won’t get hired. Who would want to have to micromanage someone who they’re paying all this money for? You say you’re an adult and that you’re capable, competent, and ready for the responsibility, but if you don’t know how to interact with people, then really you’re not a total package. So, when students participate in our programs around leadership or they do their own leadership self discovery, it opens the door for them to start learning more about how to interact with other people and that shows in an interview. Even just with answering generic interview questions, you can tell who has good interpersonal and communication skills and who does not.
CCL: You mentioned campus activities earlier. Could you mention some programs you have?
VLH: Well, I was brought in to revamp the office because we don’t have very much right now. But, some offices on different campuses have what we call “leadership staples.” You’re always going to have leadership workshops and conferences and we have both of those things here at UIC. We have been working on trying to come up with a workshop series that’s interesting and presented in a way that will be palatable to the students. In addition to those generic leadership offerings that other campuses have, we also have a luncheon series, a seminar series, and one on one consultations.
CCL: What are some general, well-known leadership resources?
VLH: It depends on what field you’re in because well-known is subjective. From the business world standpoint, things such as StrengthQuest, Fish Philosophy, Whale Done or anything by Spencer Johnson is great. He’s written a lot of books on leadership and management. Kouzes and Posner and Susan Komives have great books coming from the student affairs standpoint. We try to integrate both the business and student development side of leadership and use things such as Who Moved my Cheese, True Colors, and the Student Leadership Practices Inventory. We also offer different academic workshops for students that are ran by administrators. They use simulations like the Archie Bunker’s Neighborhood and BaFa’ BaFa’ to showcase intergroup dynamics and how leadership comes into play in situations.
CCL: Do you have any last words for students?
VLH: In my heart, I feel very firmly that participating in the free leadership and free community service programs that your campus offers is the easiest, cheapest, and most fun way to make the biggest impact on your future. It’ll help you in your personal and academic life and future career. You’ll be exposed to things that people pay thousands of dollars for in the corporate world. It will give you a leg up over other candidates because you sort of already know the concepts of leadership. It lets you think about what you do in your life and not just going through life and letting it happen to you. You understand it and can tap into your own potential and make strategic plans for your future.
Some fliers from Student Development Services’ leadership programs/events: