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Starting College: 5 Tips to Learning Leadership

Across the country many universities will be starting classes and welcoming a new freshman class to campus. Parents are jockeying for the last few minutes with their children before leaving them to their futures and those same students are filled with trepidation and excitement.  And the hope that they’ll be able to sneak home soon to do laundry.

The beginning of college heralds in a new era in our lives.  It is the next chapter in our educational and leadership journeys – and it cements relationships we may have for life.  Everything starts to happen on a larger stage and the stakes become even higher for performance and success.

I spent many years working in and around the Higher Education marketplace, and have seen many new classes start and graduate. Over the years I have seen what it takes for new students to become Leaders, and those who make the most of their educational experience are poised to maximize their post graduation success. This means heading out into the world ready to lead and serve – bringing the kind of influence that can inspire fantastic Customer service to market.

Which is why I wanted to talk about this today.  I am always excited when a new fall begins because the next generation of Leaders are preparing to take the stage.  There is more to leadership than education, but college can provide linchpin experiences that can allow new Leaders to develop and thrive.

My hope is that emerging Leaders will take up the mantle of providing amazing Guest experiences and find meaning in their futures.

Treat Going to Class Like a Job. This may seem basic, but the reality is that good grades and learning your craft will help you get a better job.  There are so many distractions and so much noise – especially for those away from home for the first time.  So stay focused and go to class.  I wouldn’t mention this ground level strategy, except that many students go wrong here.  Going to college is hard work, but it is what you signed up for.  Resist the urge to complain about how hard it is, because your future career will be hard work, too.  Stay on track so you can maximize your learning.  While its fun to head out for the 2 a.m. pizza run, your 8 a.m. class will be much more rewarding in 10 years.  You will find your mind widened and your waistline trimmer.

Don’t Rush Committing to a Major.  Right out of high school you may feel very sure about your future career or find yourself completely undecided.  Both are normal and absolutely okay.  There is no harm in taking some core classes to “get your eye in” at your new school and see what speaks to you.  Wasting time on specific classes that may not help if you change majors might do you more harm than good.  Explore some topics that interest you and see what happens.  But also keep a close eye on trends out there in the universe.  The name of the game is finding meaningful employment following graduation, so pursuing a degree that is in demand has to be a priority.  If you absolutely must get your Latin or History fix, then pick up a minor.  Then you can be both smart and employed.

Internships Make You Desirable.  The other side of that coin is to get out there in the real world and get some experience.  Yes it will often be unpaid.  Yes it may involve some low level gofer work.  Yes it will be less fun than playing video games all summer.  But it can be the biggest differentiator when twenty people are being interviewed for the same role.  Many disciplines such as medicine, law, and culinary require it as a part of the process, but others don’t have a codified process.  Take advantage of the many large companies that provide internship experiences for students and get out there and learn in real time.  Make contacts, work hard, and show you have what it takes to succeed.  Leadership isn’t about having authority, it is about how you influence.  You can be a leader anywhere in an organization without formal authority, so take the time during your internship to observe Leaders in action.

Find Your Productivity.  Nothing can grow your influence and success like finding ways to get more done.  Quality work is key, but you will most always be working to a deadline – both in school and in your future careers.  College is your time to find your style and make it work for you.  Organization may not sound like a sexy pursuit, but think about how valuable a commodity time is to everyone.  There never seems to be enough of it and when you find a way to maximize your efforts, the amount of work you can get done will multiply exponentially.  Whether you prefer an analog planner or electronic list maker, the strategy is the same.  Make your time count – learn that multitasking is an illusion, only handle items once, and prioritize your work efforts.  Learn to be amazing at time management and you’ll find even more time for the extracurricular activities you want to pursue.

Take a Philosophy Class.  That’s right.  Philosophy.  Why, you may ask?  Because I am a firm believer that philosophy classes help you become not only a better writer, but a better thinker.  It introduces you to the classics of modern thought along with encouraging you to think more actively for yourself.  That kind of perspective is something that will serve you well in your future career when you have to take on leadership roles, think in the moment, and defend your positions in meetings.  You will often have to explain the virtues of your ideas or projects, and this will prepare you to do so.  You can also consider a debate or speech course if philosophy doesn’t appeal to you.

You may have noticed that I only vaguely mentioned extracurricular activities.  There is a reason for that.  I believe there is value in those pursuits, and that they can make you a better Leader, but only in the context of the educational experience.  Being involved in a sport or club can give you chances to lead and succeed under pressure, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities to grow if you can.  Working with community outreach efforts can really center you and define your service attitude.  These are amazing things, but you can’t put them to good use without reaching your final destination, which is graduation.

If you have chosen to take on the calling of a college education, I wish you luck.  Have fun, make some mistakes, but stay centered on your goal of finishing on time and with good grades.

You will thank your 18 year old self for the head start!

Until next time,


Tony Johnson Customer Service Expert | Author | Trainer | Speaker

Check out my FREE Resources and Training Tools: Web: YouTube: Twitter:

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