During my first year as a student group advisor, I focused on the establishment of student groups instead of the development of the individual leaders. As it turned out the group never reached their potential because their leaders weren’t ready to guide them effectively. The success of almost every residence hall student group relies in the advisor’s investment in the leadership. Therefore, it is imperative that advisors encourage the leaders of student groups to create their own style of piloting their organization.
Below are eight suggestions for advisors to encourage student leadership in a residential setting.
One of the first steps you must do in establishing student leadership in a residence hall is send a positive message about your student groups and leadership positions that are available. This may be done through advertising or marketing that communicates the perquisites of being in student groups to residents.
Advisors must be dedicated to training their student group leaders by offering them continual constructive feedback as they develop into their position. It is very easy to forget to offer training after the beginning of the academic year when positions are established, constitutions are formed, and budgets are started. Formal training for student leaders can be helpful; however, the advisors’ feedback may be priceless in situations that they or you may have not anticipated in training.
Leaders must feel their successes are appreciated in order to continue to develop their style of leadership. This may mean nominating them for awards, mentioning their successes at a meeting, or including them in your hall newsletter. You may be surprised to see how leaders will increase their focus and productivity once they see that they are making a difference.
Leaders always look for role models around them. Therefore, it is very important that the advisor and undergraduate staff members are being positive leaders in the residence hall. Your leaders will be observing you when there are issues and conflicts and situations and how you respond to them.
It is very important to realize at some point, as the advisor, you must trust your student leadership to make good choices. In other words, you must surrender the influence of power over the group and allow them to make decisions with your guidance along the way. It is very common for many advisors to take the bull by the horns and organize a student group; however, creating a student organization, setting a mission, or developing initiatives or programs without the input of students can result in the downfall of the group. Allow the students or develop and operate their own organization.
In order to achieve great things, leaders must be inspired to reach for high goals in their organization. Inspire the residence hall leaders by having guest speakers present on what skills they will acquire by being a leader in their residence hall. Another idea is to create a book of inspirational stories, poems, or quotes to distribute to student leaders.
Encourage the group you advise to reach for the stars. There is nothing wrong with allowing the student group to strive for high goals; however, it is the advisor’s responsibility to be a realistic and communicate challenges openly with the student leaders. Some leaders may see your constructive input as discouragement, but will appreciate your feedback and consider it very valuable when all is said and done.
Your message to student leaders on the importance of their positions must be one that they will value and that will echo the mission of the university. In addition, you must give them a positive vision for their organization and of the impact that they can have on other residents’ lives.
Submitted by Glen Midkiff, M.S., Resident Director, Michigan State University