Two-day conference challenges students’ leadership skills through training workshops

The Department of Student Activities hosted the Leadership Challenge 2003 this weekend, a conference designed to equip students with the skills they need to become more effective leaders.

On Friday evening, the conference began with dinner and a “Meet, Mix and Mingle” presentation by Linda Gorski. The presentation consisted of various icebreaker activities to help the students become acquainted with one another.

The activities were also designed to promote discussions and thoughts between the students concerning leadership principles.

Students also filled out a “Student Leadership Practices Inventory”, which listed various leadership behaviors and asked students to rate themselves on how often they practice those behaviors.

Some of the behaviors were, “I look for opportunities that challenge my skills and abilities”, “I look for ways to improve whatever project or task I am involved in” and “I give people in our organization support and express appreciation for their contributions.”

The students were asked to rate themselves from No. 1 to No. 5 for each question. Number five meant the student very frequently or almost always exercises that particular leadership principle, and number one meant the student rarely or seldom practiced the principle.

Saturday, students met at 8 a.m. for breakfast and registration, followed by a day of leadership training workshops. The students were separated into several teams that traveled to the various workshops together throughout the day.

One workshop was entitled, “Challenging the Process” by Amy Swingle, assistant director of Recreational Sports, and Laverne Warner, professor and coordinator of Early Childhood Development at SHSU.

Citing the book, “The Leadership Challenge,” Swingle said some characteristics of leaders are that they venture out, they are pioneers, they are early adopters of innovation and they are learners.

“Sometimes, you have to take the risk of looking like a fool when you’re a leader,” Swingle said. “Realize that you don’t have to change the world. Question the status quo, and always ask questions.”

Swingle told students to always stand up for their beliefs, and recognize that there are things they can do to affect change.

Another workshop was entitled, “Inspiring a Shared Vision.” It was led by Janet Fair, assistant director of academic support programs at the SAM Center and Keri Rogers, director of the Lowman Student Center and Student Activities.

Fair said leaders who want to inspire a shared vision should determine what they want, act on their own intuitions, test their assumptions, look at future trends, develop interpersonal competence, speak positively and speak from the heart.

“You have to have a plan,” Fair said. “Make the intangible tangible. Talk about what it’s going to take to achieve your goal.

“The single best way to get people to do what you want them to do is to inspire them,” she said. “If you’re excited and knowledgeable about what you want to do, people around you will notice that.”

A workshop entitled, “Enabling Others to Act” was led by Doug R. Ullrich Jr., associate professor and SAM Center advisor, and Shawn Lewis, Main Street manager for the City of Huntsville.

“A lot of times, we think we have to do all the work when we become leaders,” said Ullrich. “Our job as leaders is to make the people we work with learn something.” Ullrich said that when employers look at resumes, they are very concerned with facts including if the applicant came to class on time as a student, if they were prepared, and if they are trustworthy rather than if they have a 4.0 grade point average.

“If you have a 4.0 grade point average, but all you did in school was sit in the closet and study, then that is a problem,” he said.

Ullrich said grades are important, but employers are also looking for leadership skills. “Someone could have great skills and a dynamic personality, but to be a leader that person needs to care about people,” Ullrich said.

Ullrich said leaders influence others to do activities that fulfill a shared goal, direct and manage change, create vision for the organization, motivate and lead people to success and create conditions necessary to achieve goals.

Other workshops taught included, “Modeling the Way” by Mike Yawn and Bobby Williams, and “Encouraging the Heart” by Bernice Strauss and Mary Ellen Sims.

Students who attended the Leadership Challenge said they were inspired to become better leaders within their organizations.

“At first, I came to the Leadership Challenge for extra credit for my history class, but now I am glad that I had the time to learn some new leadership skills,” freshman Justin Flanory said.

“Through the Leadership Challenge, I have learned how to become a better leader,” senior Jennifer Vaughn said. “I am glad I came because I can use the skills I have learned for the rest of my life.”

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