Top Hat

Leadership derives from motivation

Getting involved in campus government not necessary to be a student leader

Hello, RPI! Last week I wrote about why you should get involved in Student Government, and about the things you learn from running in the elections and holding an officer position. However, someone asked me, “do you think you need to hold a position to really be a leader?” I liked this question a lot, and it made me think a little bit. With over 200 Rensselaer Union clubs and organizations, around 30 greek organizations, and all levels of athletics, there are bound to be over 400 leadership positions that students could potentially hold.

Leadership is something that I personally think is best learned with practice. Although we can try to teach it through courses like Professional Development II, there really is nothing that compares to real life experiences. Before I continue on with this Top Hat article, I would like to clarify that I’m not asserting that I know everything about leadership. Much like you may have learned in Introduction to Engineering
Design or Professional Development I through your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, there are different types of personalities and, therefore, different types of leaders.

Throughout the last three years, I’ve learned a few things that have really stuck in my head about leadership. The most important lesson was the motto “prior preparation prevents poor performance.” If you’ve ever taken a management course taught by Frank Wright, you’ve most likely heard this little mantra many times before. Surprisingly, I’d say this is the first step in leadership. Being prepared shows that you’ve done your work, which makes people buy into what you are doing and shows that you “know your stuff.” A result of preparation is confidence; because of the work you have done in advance, you become more confident in yourself, which is another very important leadership trait.

One other tip for success is to visualize it. If you picture yourself being successful, and doing something well, it helps make that happen. Having the positive image of it in your mind really makes a big difference. Now, when it comes to something like a test that you haven’t studied for, there’s no amount of “visualization” that can get you an A on the test, but it can help with things like presentations, meetings, and more physical activities rather than mental.

What’s the best way to hone these skills and learn them? Well in my opinion, it’s to surround yourself with people that you want to try and be like. That seems kind of trivial, but it’s very true. If you work with people that slack off and don’t care, then those are the only people that you have to model yourself after! But, of course, even if you surround yourself with people that are great leaders, you still need to find your own “persona” that fits with your own personality.

Lastly, the most important key for leadership is ambition and self-motivation. Since it’s a leader’s job to motivate everyone else and get things done, they need to be personally motivated to be able to inspire other people. This raises a question: when you are a leader, what is it that inspires or motivates you? So for all of you club officers, team captains, greek leaders, etc.—what is it that inspires you to do what you do? E-mail me at!