Leadership has evolved tremendously over time and continues to today. Leadership is important and applicable for students of all majors as they transition into the work force after college. It is up to you during your time in college to develop leadership skills to be competitive in the workforce.

Defining leadership

People often confuse leadership by associating it with the term “managing others.” This is not how leadership should be defined. Leadership is all about influencing followers around you and leading them to accomplish a mutual goal that the group has. A great leader will focus on the well-being of all the group members to provide an environment where they feel a sense of value. This helps work get done efficiently and raises productivity for everyone.

An important part of being a good leader is associated with one’s communication style. According to Stephanie Kelly and Patrick MacDonald, authors of A Look at Leadership Styles and Workplace Solidarity Communication, “Individuals who desire to be more effective leaders and for organizations that have training programs dedicated to leadership development, understanding the antecedents of effective leadership, and grounded in communication, is essential.”

A leader needs to effectively identify how they will respond to their team depending on which communication style that they use. Followers are more likely to follow leaders if they are persuasive in their message. Great leaders will engage in supportive communication and encourages involvement from their followers to reach the desired outcomes and achievements.

Since I am majoring in communication, I realize how vital it is to send messages successfully, since people interpret those messages differently every time, based on the situation. My communication skills make me an effective leader since I am confident speaking in group settings. They give me confidence when working in group projects and I can use them to help the group work efficiently toward the end goal.

It is important for good leaders to maintain this practice since followers tend to look for inconsistencies of behavior in leaders. If a leaders slips up and acts out in insincere ways, it can damage the motivation of followers.

“Leadership is it is not defined by a title or position you hold, but rather it is something you do.”—Brittany Turner

Leadership is not defined by a title or position you hold, but rather it is something you do. According to Brittany Turner, talent acquisition manager at Cintas, “Leadership is a transferable skill and experiences that many employers seek. There are many ways that you can demonstrate and grow your leadership skills while pursing your degree such as getting involved with student groups, work experiences, and classroom experiences.

“Leadership roles are great, but how you impact those around you truly defines your leadership style. When you break it down, the skill of leadership can be demonstrated by providing effective communication, motivating and inspiring others, negotiating, having a positive attitude, and taking the initiative.”

Developing leadership skills

Since leadership skills can be developed through personal experience. The Career Center encourages students to get involved on campus. This can be done by joining a student organization, working on-campus, and volunteering. Such involvement helps students to learn how to work in different environments and with different groups of people. Over time, as the student develops their confidence and leadership skills, they can pursue specific leadership roles within those organizations and further develop those skills.

The author leads a student at the Career Center

Collin Beaver guides students in his role as a career ambassador.

In my freshman year at Illinois State University, I decided to go out of my comfort zone and rush fraternities. My main goal was to be more involved on campus while meeting new people. As I began rushing, I realized that I did not want to join a fraternity that was already chartered and established. I wanted to be a part of something that I could help grow and evolve from the beginning. This is what led me to rushing Sigma Nu and becoming a founding father for this fraternity. I am proud to be a part of a group that started with just 50 members that grew to over 100.

As my college years progressed, I decided to take my leadership skills a step further by becoming a career ambassador at the Career Center. This role has led to many different ones that build upon my current leadership skills, such as helping students with their résumés and careers, presenting to classes, and taking on other projects. The responsibilities that come with this position have developed my leadership skills further toward my career postgraduation.

Those experiences helped me to build my confidence, which led me to take on an internship in international marketing for Rust-Oleum. This was important to my career since it was my first exposure in a work setting to demonstrate leadership. In my role, I aided the trade manager in tasks and duties. This helped me to develop my leadership skills because it gave me the opportunity to work with different people globally, and I was responsible for taking the initiative to complete projects in a timely manner.

After my sophomore year, I worked in Rust-Oleum’s product support department. This allowed me to gain product knowledge through hands on training so that I could help customers. Being a part of that department showed me how important customer satisfaction is to the company and how all teams worked together in a form of leadership. This shows how there is interdependence between leaders and followers to work together to complete desired outcomes.

Words from an alum

An important aspect of learning leadership is gaining insight from those who have held leadership roles. According to Mike Rubio ‘19, former Illinois State University Student Government Association president, “Leadership is a transferable skill that will help you, and those around you, in whatever industry or field you desire to become a part of. Being able to communicate effectively, take initiative, and inspire and work with others are just a few examples of what it means to be a good leader. When people notice you are an emerging leader, they will want to invest and work with you, make you a part of the team, and make any of your goals a reality.” This advice applies critically for working together in a group whether it is in an organization for school or work after college.

People often get intimidated when they are asked to be a leader. They do not realize that they have many leadership skills that they use in their everyday lives to prepare them for the next step. It is important to put yourself out there when you are in class or to join a club and to not be afraid of suggestions. This is significant since every opportunity gives you more experience to succeed in the future. Becoming a good leader is like climbing a staircase, you cannot jump immediately to the top stair. If you take each opportunity and experience from each step, you will eventually gain the skills to demonstrate the qualities of a good leader.

Collin Beaver is a Career Center career ambassador and a senior studying communication. Connect with him on LinkedIn.