Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leadership is overrated

What is the obsession with leadership?

While being a good leader is important, if you are the head of a company or an organization, or the head of a department or an initiative, not everyone needs to be, or should be, a leader.

But try telling, or selling, that to College Admissions.

Having good grades, good SAT or ACT, and some sort of extracurricular activity (preferably one you are very good at and have been doing consistently for years) is not enough to get into college anymore. No, you need to be a leader, or exhibit leadership qualities. (Don't believe me? Look at just about any college application, or talk to any college guidance counselor or admissions officer.)

Leadership experience is all fine and good if you are applying to be head of a company. But to expect it of a 17-year-old applying to college? Other than helping their sports team win a title, or being elected head of student government (which, we all know, is generally a popularity contest and the winners rarely actually "lead"), how many 17-year-olds, even captains of their sports teams, or debate teams, have experience being leaders, or have even had the chance or opportunity to lead?

Is it even realistic or desirable to have a world filled with only leaders? Don't too many chefs spoil the broth?

What about good followers? Aren't they important, too? After all, without followers, there are no leaders.

Has anyone ever written a college essay about being a good follower? If not, maybe someone should.

And it's not just colleges that put a premium on leadership (though as the mother of a Junior in high school, college is on my mind). It's everywhere.

Yes, being known for being a good leader is great. But what's wrong with being No. 2, or No. 22 -- or just being a good person who contributes meaningfully to something? Why do we give more weight, and more respect, to those with "Captain" or "CEO" or "Head" in their titles, regardless of the job they are doing or have done, than to the hard-working folks who actual do the work or perform acts of kindness without calling attention to themselves?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, particularly regarding how to handle the "leadership" question when applying to colleges.


TLEC said...

Testosterone-driven competition leads (pun intended) to this kind of selection process. I'm totally with you. How about Nurturers? Creators? Empathizers? Supporters? Thinkers? Observers? Organisers? Not to mention analysts, critics, and just plain beings?

Anonymous said...

I agree - participation and active engagement is what really matters!

J. said...

@TLEC, right on! Where would we be without the nurturers, creators, supporters, thinkers, and organizers? (I could live with fewer critics -- and pundits.) Btw, I just read a wonderful book that touches on this topic. It's a novel titled One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern. Highly recommend.

lindaroo said...

It's the college applications that totally expose this craziness! DD is a natural leader and competitor, who had lots to put on her application, and she was terribly stressed over it. DS is laid-back, supportive of others, responsible and reliable, optimistic... but as nothing to write in that part of the resume. We'll see what happens!

J. said...

@lindaroo, I wish both DD and DS good luck! FWIW, my daughter, who is a Nurturer and a Creator, but doesn't do sports or typical extracurriculars, was just invited to apply to be in the National Honors Society. But when she heard about the Leadership requirement, she decided not to apply, as she and we doubted she would be accepted. Crazy -- and sad.