January 22, 2018

The Five People to Train in Student Leadership Heaven

The title of this blog post is an obvious (or maybe not so obvious) take-off on a popular movie title – “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” But since training student leaders is my own little bit of Heaven I couldn’t resist. If I could visit every college campus in the nation and choose who I wanted to train it would be these five people – or groups of people – and here’s why. I’ve been training student leaders for over two decades – and working hard at that ‘every college campus in the nation’ goal – but often these are the folks who get left out of the mix and could make a real impact on campus if included. If you want the most bang for your student leadership training bucks make sure they have a seat in your next leadership retreat.

Student Leadership Heaven - photo copyright 2012 Rick Sherrell

1. Every Freshman

So many students enter college without a game plan – one that takes them from from freshman orientation to graduation. This is reflected in the statistics that show 50 percent of college students will not graduate within six years – and after six years the chances are even further diminished. I’ve found that a good leadership program at the start gets them engaged in the college, its programs, and its activities and they end up much more satisfied with the school and their academic career.  They also tend to stay in school because they enjoy campus life more – especially if part of that training gets them involved in community service. They get connected to the school and to the community.

I saw a recent study of over 250,000 college students that showed their desire to get involved in community service is at about 28 percent when they enter college as freshmen and increases to about 40 percent by the end of their freshman year. That same survey also shows that although their desire to be involved in community service increases throughout their college career their satisfaction with the community service opportunities presented to them decreases. This just says that we need to do a much better job of showing students how to get involved in the local community.

2. Student Advisors

Student advisors are in a powerful position to have great influence on the members of a campus organization throughout their academic careers. Too many advisors are what I call ‘signature advisors’ – meaning that they only get involved when the organization needs a signature to reserve a room or start a project. Those who are really involved encourage students to get involved and look for ways to get them involved in leadership opportunities. An advisor encourage me to get involved when I was in high school and it lead me to years of success as an organization leader and thousands of hours of giving back to my communities. That advisor is one of the reasons I do what I do today.

Most importantly, the club or organization advisor is a human face that students can have a conversation with without it being connected to their grades or academic performance. I would teach advisors to not only be more engaged with their students, but to network with each other for additional peer support and guidance.

3. Organization Vice-Presidents

Far too often organization vice-presidents have no defined role. Basically they are there in case the president falls off a cliff or decides to run off and live in a commune. I’d teach them to be in charge of getting members involved in the organization’s activities and maybe even make them the membership chair. They’d follow up if members missed a meeting and encourage the members to come out to support the organization’s projects and socials.

It would be the VP’s job to keep the membership satisfied with the educational experience as a whole. They would also educate their members about the organization itself by sharing its history, its operational structure and explaining the opportunities and possibilities that exist for them inside the organization. Not only would this give them a more functional role within the organization, but they’d also be better prepared to step in just in case the president does take that misstep at cliff’s edge.

4. Committee Chairs

This is another often overlooked but every important leadership role. From a student leadership perspective it’s a great entry level position for those new to the organization to move up from. It’s also a great way to get freshmen involved and keep them connected. If they fill the position well it will prepare them for more advanced leadership opportunities within the organization.

Also, because they’re not seen as part of the executive board, the committee chairs often have a great connection with average member. In may ways this makes them the heart and soul of the organization. They can use that connection to encourage more member participation in the organization’s projects. I would train them for a better understanding of how each project is connected to the mission of the organization and how they are a key part of keeping the membership involved.

By the way, committee chairs make great future officers so train them well. Who best to pass the torch to?

5. Organization Treasurers

A lot of times in an organization they don’t know what to do with the treasurer position – especially if the organization doesn’t collect dues. Even then, the treasurer usually collects dues and may be in charge of fundraising, but that’s about it. It’s often the ‘forgotten position’ and organizations have one just because they are supposed to.

Both treasurers and the organization should recognize that the treasurer is one quarter of the executive leadership and should be heavily involved with the retention and involvement of members. Treasurers can have great influence on getting other members involved in the organization’s activities and have vital input to the organization’s overall direction.

In addition, the treasurer position is another great role for underclassmen. If properly involved in the leadership of the organization they can naturally move to the president’s position or to state or national board. As 25 percent of executive board they should be taken seriously and they should understand that they have a voice. They are more than just the banker and they do have an important role.


Leadership consists of a set of skills, methodologies and ideas that can be taught.

Campus Organization Leadership Training (COLT) by Dave Kelly

Essential and Comprehensive Training for Student Government Associations; Student Leadership Programs; Greek Organizations; Recreational Clubs and Organizations; Academic Clubs and Organizations; Business Clubs and Organizations; International Student Organizations; and every Club, Organization and Student Leader on your Campus! (get more info…)

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About the Author: Dave "Gonzo" Kelly (64 Posts)

Dave Kelly is the leading authority on student leadership and community service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from student government associations, campus activities boards and campus clubs of every kind on organizational leadership and community service projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 150 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.

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