THE BLOG
09/12/2014 02:02 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Dear Ernest, #2: Let's Get Real About Campus Leadership

Question: Dear Ernest, I feel like an underachiever right about now. My grades are great, but I feel like I don't have enough campus leadership positions. I don't care much for my student government, but I also really don't want to force myself to interact with people I don't really like. However, I do know I need to be the president of something in order to stand out on my resume, what moves should I be making?

Response: Okay, so you are feeling like the standard model of "leadership" done by others around you makes you feel like a loser. Because based off of your interpretation right now, "leadership" means having a title that implies actual hard work. I forgive you in advance for your misconception, because I also had the same thoughts entering college. But a couple of run-ins with reality have taught me that all of this is in fact one big show, and you can save your time and energy while you are ahead.

For one, the current standard definition of campus leadership is outdated. By now, most employers and recruiters are catching up to our generation's knowing that all of these student government roles and titles are worth more in namesake than actual input.

What does it mean to be a parliamentarian to a room of only 6 other people? Or to be on an executive board that is also the entire membership of that group as well? Whether you are a president, co-chair, head advisor, chief or any other foolish name that college tries to bestow upon these inflated positions...it means virtually nothing without actual merit.

You seeking advice from me to tell you how to get in that type of circle are the same reasons why you already don't like your student government. Because it is all one huge strategic network of people who are trying to find purpose in themselves while also building their resume and misdirected ambitions. I will spare you from that headache, for I learned through several failed attempts of trying to fit in that niche that it is cumbersome.

And this is not to over-generalize the sentiments of everyone who works in student government or patriarchal models of campus leadership. But let's be honest, if your peers were really invested in changing the campus atmosphere in these roles, why are the same problems that were campaigned to be solved by them still just as present as they were then?

Because just like our current national government, no one hardly wants to picks sides due to fear of losing out on the position. Ever wonder why your student government representative was everyone's friend and got elected every term but still was ineffective? Because the writing was already on the wall once they won: if they were to do something that turned off one group and left the other content, they would risk losing.

So if you were in their shoes, why bother caring if it means nothing to keep a position title? And that is why the state of student government is a mess because we have not taught our peers that maintaining positions of power should not be worth more than actually exercising the ability.

And sad enough, you are probably reading this and asking yourself are there any other ways to showcase leadership in your resume and life. Yes, because if you look up the definition of leadership you would realize that one does not have to have a particular position or appointment to feel the obligation to not be a follower. In fact, you would be more impressive by showing how you can be a leader by not having to be given a title as one.

The world's greatest leaders were ones that were not given the title. Just think about it. Rosa Parks didn't have to be called a civil rights leader before she just stepped outside of the expected role of being a general member of the community and challenging the segregation laws of the time. Find opportunities in your college experience where you don't have to insert that you are a leader based on the name of your position. Let your actions speak louder than that.

It might sound cliché at a glance, but there is actually a way you can still be yourself while also being the kind of person that exults leadership. It does not require adopting a silly pretentious dress code, or posting tons of quotes from presidents on Facebook...it's just doing what you believe is right and taking initiative the best way you see fit.

So no, I am not going to give you a how-to map on how to kiss up to upperclassman mentors to get a secretary student position that will lead to a possible vice president position and then later the big prez...that's just too damn easy. Instead, I want to challenge you to actually be yourself and find opportunities in your life already to be the leader that you want others to respect and the one that you will appreciate in yourself.

Because modeling someone else's path to leadership is completely backwards. In fact, it's actually the essentials of becoming a phenomenal follower.