An Open Letter to Student Leaders From a Student Leader

Dear Student Leader,

There is no cookie cutter recipe for creating the perfect leader.

Every leadership role is unique and requires a tailored plan of action. What works for me, may not work for you; one person’s strength may very well be your weakness and that is completely okay.

Like most talents, learning how to cultivate your skills can help you grow both as an individual and as a mentor to others. I write to you not as a prestigious expert, but rather as a fellow student leader who wants to initiate your inner spark. For the sake of self-improvement, here are a few notes worth making on your journey as a leader.

1. Lead by example

Among many responsibilities, it is important that you set a standard of tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of your leadership. Perhaps the most debilitating mistake I’ve seen amongst leaders is assuming that in order to be heard, you have to be the loudest in the room. This often backfires as people will learn to tune you out or dismiss your merit. If your presence is overpowering, your leadership skills will be less effective.


In order to create a safe and welcoming environment, you should instead utilize your role to ensure that all other voices and ideas are heard, not just your own. As Whitney Young once said,

“I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular. But I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless.”

This is an essential part of building a strong team and a sense of mutual respect. Leading should never be about me, me, me. It has always been about you, you, you.

Nobody is magically born a leader. We are all imprinted by others around us and that is the beauty of leadership; the ability to grow. Fast Company recently released an article called, Why Emotionally Intelligent People Are More Successful. In it, author Harvey Deutschendorf notes,

“Self-awareness. The first thing that is essential for any degree of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. People with a high degree of self-awareness have a solid understanding of their own emotions, their strengths, weaknesses, and what drives them.”

If you are to lead any group of people, big or small, you must first understand yourself. Once you are secure with your inner motives, you can create the accepting environment for others to grow as well.

2. Asking for help

Too often, as leaders, we take on more than we can handle in an attempt to get as many things done as possible. Perhaps it is our pride that stops us from asking for help or maybe it is our ego that makes us think we are capable of accomplishing everything all the time. Whatever the case may be, it is important to stop and remind yourself of your own mortality. Not necessarily in the sense that we will all die (sad truth) but rather that we are all humans, with limited abilities and resources.

Part of being a good leader is knowing who to turn to and where to go. Do not be afraid to reach out to senior leaders or faculty for help; it is often what they are there to do. The responsibility gained from entering a new leadership position (whether officially recognized or not) does not need to rest solely on you. Rather, engage your team and delegate when necessary. This is a huge step many leaders miss, especially those who are go-getters or perfectionists.

If you don’t know something and want more knowledge in an area, ask your supervisor for a training or additional resources on a topic. We have the world at our fingertips with the internet and social media. If a supervisor near you does not know the answer, someone somewhere does.

3. Overcome discouragement

Whether it be through your student organization or in the classroom, you will hit roadblocks that challenge the foundation of you or your team. This is okay. In fact, this is essential in order to reaffirm your purpose. When ideas get shot down, revise, rethink, and try again.

I’ll give you an example:

Early last year, a group of my classmates and I were hoping to push our university to establish a women’s center on campus. Seeing as though we are an urban university in the heart of Detroit, we figured this goal would not be out of reach as it would benefit not only students but the community as a whole. However, after almost a year of researching, hours of hard work, and a few budget drafts later, we realized this ideal was simply just not feasible for our university at the time. Instead of scratching the idea entirely, we chose to keep at it and perhaps redraw our plan.

Now, we are collecting all the women’s resources already available on campus and hoping to display them through a paid full-time position that will hopefully, over time, turn into an office, which will then eventually turn into its own independent center. In other words, we learned we need to walk before we run.

4. Keep the fire alive

(aka turn the initial energy into long-term sustainable efforts)

The beginning of the year has a similar effect as making a New Year’s resolution: What begins as 20 great ideas may become four sustainable ones. When it comes to yearly goals, you should always aim high but remind yourself that following through is infinitely more important. The key here is organization and creativity. For some ideas on programs intended to kickstart the momentum of the year, check out Kayley Robsham’s article, 75 Fantastic Program Ideas for First-Year Students.

Reach out to other student leaders, you are not alone!


Are you looking to start or diversify your leadership experience? Consider getting involved with off-campus internships, philanthropic efforts, or starting your own on-campus student organization.

Over to you,

Dalia Ibrahim

Student Leader at Wayne State University

P.S. What advice would you give to student leaders this year? Tweet us @hellopresence & @daliaibrahim45 to continue idea-sharing!

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Dalia Ibrahim

About the author: Dalia is a junior at Wayne State University pursuing a Political Science and Peace and Conflict degree. She is looking to make an impact in her local community of Detroit and aspires to one day be a human rights lawyer. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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