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Developing Leadership Skills in Students.

Developing Leadership Skills in Students

Written by Patrick Quigley

June 19, 2022

“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” Fuchan Yuan

This article will discuss:

  • Developing leadership qualities in students.
  • Activities to develop leadership skills in students.
  • The importance of leadership skills for students.
  • Activities to improve leadership skills.
  • Effective leadership skills.
  • How to improve leadership skills.
  • How to improve student leader qualities.
  • Teaching leadership skills to students.
  • School leadership qualities.
developing leadership
developing leadership

Developing leadership qualities in students and the importance of leadership skills for students

Are leaders born to lead or is leadership a skill that can be learnt? Are leadership qualities defined by Nature or Nurture or a mixture of both? This is a difficult question to answer. But, it´s not difficult to list the characteristics of a great leader. Teachers can design classes and tasks to develop leadership skills. This can lead to the development of leaders. Teachers have a great responsibility to create leaders.

Warren Gamaliel Bennis (1925 – 2014) was an American author, scholar and organizational consultant. He is widely regarded as the creator of the modern field of leadership studies Bennis a university professor. He was the Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California. He said that “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

In some ways, we are all leaders. At some point in our lives, we take the helm and lead. It is an inevitable fact of life that at some point every individual will have to take responsibility, make decisions and lead. This could involve your children or your siblings or your friends or relatives. Leadership comes to all in varying amounts and knowing how to handle it is a fine thing to know.

“To do great things is difficult, but to command great things is more difficult.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

What characteristics and skills do you need to become an effective, charismatic leader with effective leadership skills?

If we subscribe to the idea that leadership is teachable, then we need to break the concept down into subskills and decide what to teach. Effective leadership skills include being good listeners, good communicators skill, good decision-makers, willing to serve others, encouraging, honest, hardworking, and positive.

Great leaders are great listeners

(Teaching leadership skills to students)

“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” —Aristotle

This is an essential leadership skill for students, teachers, fathers, mothers, confidantes, friends and future leaders alike. A good listener knows how to listen, and how to show empathy, sympathy and emotion. A good listener is a valued member of any community.

There are numerous listening, debating, and communicating activities for students of all ages. These include games like “Chinese whispers” and more advanced techniques like listening for gist, detail and inference. Teachers can prepare students to listen by showing them how to listen and what to listen for. They can also be taught to understand metaphors, idioms and phrasal verbs as well as sarcasm and irony. Developing leadership qualities in students is an important part of a teacher´s job. Developing listening skills is an important step forward.

Effective leaders are good communicators

(How to improve leadership skills)

developing leadership
developing leadership

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch

Communication is a useful skill. We use it in all walks of life. In personal relationships, in our careers and on all rungs of the management ladder. Teachers can teach students how to be good communicators skill. By developing debating skills, public speaking, oration, articulation, and the use of body language. Good communicators can be crafted. Communication skills can be used in digital correspondence, telephone calls, meetings, public speaking, marketing, sales and in myriad other situations. Great leaders are great communicators.

Fine leaders are decisive decision-makers

(School leadership qualities)

developing leadership
developing leadership

“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” — General Montgomery

How do we make good decisions? Making decisions is an essential component of leadership. There are countless activities to develop leadership skills in students. Students need to be taught critical thinking skills to weigh up and take stock of situations. They need skills to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of decisions and learn from previous slip-ups. Students can be taught to analyse the decision-making process and make a plan on the best way to arrive at a decision. This could incorporate ideas on democracy and social order, voting, constitutional rights etc. Many schools these days hold mock United Nations meetings and make collective decisions to benefit the greater good.

Inspirational leaders are willing to serve others

(How to improve student leader qualities)

developing leadership
developing leadership

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” — Max DePree

Successful leaders need to learn how to serve others. Students learn how to serve others by being team players. Collaborative project work where learners have assigned roles and integrate with each other builds essential bonding and teamwork skills and teaches students the value of service. A study of great historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela takes a close look at how famous leaders served their communities, races and nations.

Motivational leaders are encouraging

(School leadership qualities)

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” — Peter Drucker

A growth mindset and positive attitude can be developed. Students can be trained to be encouraging and see the proverbial “glass” as half full and not half empty. Life is full of challenges and how one reacts to these challenges is tantamount to success. Leaders are motivational, inspirational and dependent. Students in the classroom can learn to be independent and learn not only how to encourage others but how to accept encouragement.

Formidable leaders are honest

(The importance of leadership skills for students.)

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus

Integrity and honesty play a huge part in developing leaders. Students need instruction in ethics and morals and these are invaluable in their development, not only as leaders but as upstanding members of the community.

Humble leaders are hardworking

(Effective leadership skills)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu

Perseverance and determination are necessary to be a successful leader. Children learn through failure and they learn through teamwork and they learn by being team players who place trust in leaders and peers.

Powerful leaders are positive

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

Positivity is a trait which can be learnt and fashioned. Great leaders are positive people. Great teachers are positive and encourage positivity.

Revolutionary leaders are responsible

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”- Warren Bennis

Great leadership requires great responsibility. Students can be taught how and why they should take responsibility for their actions.

Legendary leaders are goal-oriented.

(Activities to improve leadership skills. Effective leadership skills. How to improve leadership skills)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” — Proverbs 29:18

goal oriented.

Successful businesses and influential leaders of multinational companies know the value of being goal oriented. The typical model is the SMART model and this is an invaluable tool for students.

Goals are more likely to be achieved when they are clearly defined and SMART.






Teachers have an obligation to help their students achieve their goals. The SMART method is an excellent way for teachers to train students to become goal-driven leaders who provide excellent leadership.


Goals need to be clear and specific, otherwise, they are difficult to achieve. When drafting your goal, try to answer the five “W” questions:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Why is this goal significant?
  • Who are the stakeholders
  • Where do I need to be to achieve it?
  • Which resources do I need to attain the goal?

Imagine that you are studying to get band 7 in the International English Language Testing System and you are currently band 6. A specific goal could be, “I want to gain the skills and experience necessary to achieve IELTS band 7 within the next year, so that I can succeed in my career and become leader of a successful team.”


It’s crucial to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and maintain motivation. Assessing progress helps students to stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel the thrill of getting closer to achieving their goals.

A measurable goal should address questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

You might measure your goal of losing 10 kilograms of weight in 20 weeks by keeping a diary and aiming to lose a half kilo every week. The tracking and data recording can keep you motivated and point out weaknesses and strengths in your plan.


Goals need to be realistic and attainable to be successful. They should challenge but remain achievable. When students set an achievable goal they may be able to see previously missed opportunities or resources that can bring them closer to success.

An achievable goal will usually answer questions such as:

If a student is trying to lose 10 kilos in twenty weeks they could ask the following questions. Do they have the time to complete their required exercise plan effectively? Are the necessary resources (perhaps gym membership, healthy food) available to them? Can they afford to stick to the plan? Is the goal achievable? It would be completely pointless trying to lose 10 kilos in 10 days. Students can be trained to set achievable goals where a realistic objective is set and strived for. One thing to watch out here for is not setting goals that someone else has control over. For example, getting a promotion depends on someone else´s decision. However, getting the training and experience that is needed to be considered for the promotion is entirely down to the individual who sets realistic goals.


Goals need to matter and be relevant. They also need to align with other relevant goals. Students need assistance and support in achieving their goals, but it’s important to have control over them. Teachers make sure that their students plans drive their peers and all other stakeholders forward. At the same time each individual is still responsible for achieving their own goal.

Relevant goals are:


Set at a suitable time

Compatible with other goals

Set by the right person to achieve the goal,

Attainable in the goal setters` environment, whether that is social, economic etc.

You might want to gain the skills to become captain of the debate team, but is it the right time to undertake the required training, or work towards this goal? Do you have enough time and motivation? Are you sure that you’re the right person for the role? Have you considered your peers´ goals? For example, maybe your best friend wants to be captain and has been working hard at achieving this goal for months.


Goals need targets. Deadlines motivate people and give them something specific to focus on and something to work toward. This final element of the SMART goal principles helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over longer-term goals.

Time-bound goals make plans and schedules and will usually answer these questions:

  • When do I want to achieve my goal?
  • Where will I be and what will I be doing six weeks from now?
  • Where will I be and what will I be doing six months from now?
  • What can I do today?

Gaining the skills to debate captain may require additional training or experience or advice or practice. How long will it take the student to gain these skills? Do they need further training or practice? It’s important to have a realistic time frame for accomplishing the smaller goals that are necessary to achieving the final objective.

Leaders know how to achieve goals and they know how to impart this knowledge to others.

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” —Nelson Mandela

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”—Theodore Roosevelt

Patrick is from Ireland and has been teaching for the last twenty years. He has worked in Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Spain, Japan, Taiwan, Oman and Saudi Arabia. He has a degree in English Literature and Applied Psychology. Patrick loves travelling and learning about new cultures. He is passionate about motivating students to maximize their creative potential.


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Chris is from Devon, in the south of England. He has been teaching English as a foreign language for over six years and has taught in China, the UK, Hungary and Spain. He has a background in Music and studied Composition at the RSAMD in Glasgow, Trinity Laban in London and at the University of York. After finishing his master’s at York, he travelled to China to teach and fell in love with it. He has been teaching ever since.

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