5 reasons boarding schools are great at teaching leadership

06/ 28/ 2017

There is no question that leadership is a strategic asset for a country, a corporation, a school or any organization. The CEO of One Click Ventures, Randy Stocklin, recently defined leadership in an interview with Business News Daily as “the ability to help people achieve things they don’t think are possible. Leaders are coaches with a passion for developing people…Leaders inspire people through a shared vision and create an environment where people feel valued and fulfilled.” While some young adults learn these skills on their own or are taught how to lead by their parents, many more need access to leadership training, opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a leader and how they, in their own way, can contribute to the leadership of a community or institution. While there are many ways to receive this training, let’s talk about 5 reasons boarding schools are particularly good at teaching leadership: large_photo385505_4302071.jpg

  1. Living in an educational community gives students daily opportunities to observe how their actions affect others and to make choices that can change lives, in both little and big ways.
  2. In these small communities, adults depend on older students to be role models; in dormitories, classrooms, and playing fields, the older students are expected to teach the younger students the rules and help them to become the next generation of leaders for the school.
  3. At the same time, there are plenty of ways for younger students to contribute to their communities and grow as leaders, learning what itmeans to be responsible for themselves and eventually for others.
  4. There’s no place to hide. Everyone is expected to engage and play a role in the community. Students discover, each through their own journeys, how they can contribute.
  5. There are plenty of adults in the community who are willing to help students grow as leaders and provide them with multiple chances in a variety of settings to learn what it means to lead.

At Holderness, we seek to integrate leadership into all aspects of our culture.  Head of School Phil Peck would say that leadership is less about winning and a lot more about serving. It is also not an end in itself; instead as a leadership lab, our school provides daily opportunities for students to learn what it means to coach and inspire people to “achieve things they don’t think are possible.”

At the core of that learning are four leadership values: dependability, initiative, fairness, and empathy. While most schools select leaders through an election process, Holderness chooses its leaders through a balloting system in which all students have the potential to become leaders. In April each year, the entire school, including faculty and staff, evaluate every single rising junior and senior on the four leadership values. The person with the highest score becomes the president; the person with the second highest score becomes the vice president. And so on, filling all the house and floor leadership positions as well as numerous job leadership positions throughout campus. No speeches, no fierce competitions, popularity contests.

Head of School Phil Peck grins when he states that in his sixteen-year tenure as Head, nearly half of the presidents and perhaps over half of the vice presidents have been female. This current year is an example with Brooke Hayes ’17 serving as president and Celine Yam ’17 as vice president.

When asked about the way elections work at Holderness, Brooke says “I think what we have at Holderness highlights what often goes unnoticed about leadership. It's not about who puts on the best campaign or who can write the most persuasive speech, but focuses in on the character a person exhibits in the moments that feel unrecognized. In the little choices someone makes, in the ways they communicate with others—these are the things recognized by our system.”

At Holderness, our tradition suggests that leaders are not born but rather there is hard work, continual practice, and a set of core principles that guide true leaders.

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