“I don’t really see myself as a leader” I would say to myself. Leaders take charge, head up organizations, and they have the confidence to handle that type of responsibility. Leading flows out of them naturally. One day my friend said to me, “you’re looking at it wrong.”
During my first year at UMD, I experienced a dip in confidence, after all the fun and excitement of a new school and new adventure wore off. What can I do to build up my confidence? Well, I thought, who do I think is confident? Leaders. Next, I found myself sitting in a chair at the CEHSP advising office asking if there were any courses in leadership, even outside of my psychology major. My advisor pointed me in the direction of UMD’s Kirby Leadership Institute (KLI). After asking lots of questions, and being assured that there was no penalty if I ended up not completing the requirements, I joined. I’m so glad I did, and here are my top five reasons to join (in no particular order).
Gain hands-on experience and build skills
KLI is a co-curricular certificate program at UMD and is FREE of charge to ANY UMD undergraduate who wants to participate. Kirby Leadership emphasizes diversity and inclusion, as well as hands-on experience with leadership through service in the community, both at UMD and in Duluth. When asked why volunteering is important to Leadership, Joie Acheson Lee, Associate Director for Leadership Development, and Coordinator for the Kirby Leadership Institute stated, “volunteering helps you practice [your leadership] skills and gain experience” in your field. As a college student who as spent most of my life inside a classroom, sometimes it can be hard to see myself as anything more than a student. Getting outside of the classroom, as a peer mentor, and in other roles, helped me put my learning into practice and helped me expand my view of myself as more than just a student.
Confidence and community involvement
Using your strengths helps you grow and build on them. Talking with Joie, it is very clear that KLI is passionate about empowering students and young adults. Joie says “we want students and young adults [to] have a sense of their own worth.” The fact that we bring unique experiences, skills, and abilities to all our endeavors. For me, KLI was the push I needed to step outside my comfort zone and take a more active role in the communities I was a part of. It opened my eyes to the opportunities out there that fit my interests and I could bring my skill set to. Being more invested in the community helped me meet so many awesome people and become aware of the power I had to impact my community and my life. They also emphasize equity, diversity, and inclusion helping individuals to become more aware of others and more inclusive in how they lead.
Receive recognition for things you already do
One thing I have learned while in KLI is there is not just one way to be “a leader.” Leading is about doing what you can where you are to help others and the community. KLI sees everyone as leaders and believes there are leadership opportunities in every field. KLI provides a way for you to document the leadership activities you are already involved in or will be during college. With its emphasis on community involvement, any unpaid work you do is considered volunteering both on and off campus. This can include practicums, job shadowing, unpaid internships for your major/field, and taking a leadership role within a club or on-campus. Many of us will do one or more of these things as part of our college career and the Leadership Institute wants us to see how valuable these activities are in shaping us as leaders within our fields.
It’s self-driven and 100% tailored to you
KLI is a co-curricular activity and not a minor, which affords it the ability to really tailor your leadership experiences to who you are, what you’re interested in, and the strengths you have and want to build on. When I first thought of leaders, I automatically thought, those are the people who go into things like management. I didn’t think there were many ways someone with a psychology major could exercise leadership. I am interested in helping people, so I have picked opportunities in line with those interests. Also, you have your entire college career to work towards the leadership certificate AND because much of it includes things you already would be doing throughout college regardless, it is achievable!
The leadership portfolio
Any activities you are involved in throughout college can be a springboard for your future. KLI has crafted the program with that knowledge in mind. After completing the program, they help you create a portfolio of all your leadership experiences while in college. Not only is it cool to look back and realize all you have accomplished, it is something you can leave with potential employers at job interviews. When asked what experience you have or how you have demonstrated leadership, you can only speak for so long. The leadership portfolio is a document that speaks loudly and clearly about your skills and abilities and how you have gained and used them. The leadership portfolio cannot replace a well-crafted resume, it does enhance it though; and as an addition to your resume, it can help you stand out. The leadership portfolio is something unique, created at UMD for UMD students. Employers see thousands of resumes, chances are they haven’t seen a leadership portfolio.
LEADERSHIP—WHAT IS IT ANYWAY?
I 100% guarantee you, you are already leading. Joie’s take on it is that “Leadership is the ability to influence others,” a set of skills that can be learned and not something that is just for the few. If you think about it everyone has influence in someone’s life. Siblings influence each other, friends influence friends, you influence yourself and the choices you make. Leading doesn’t have to look a certain way and leaders don’t have to be alike. “There are as many styles of leadership as there are leaders,” Joie says. I joined KLI simply because I didn’t see myself as a leader. Joining has broadened my understanding of leadership and encouraged me to see it in new ways. It has helped me give myself more credit for the work that I do and increased my confidence by pushing me out of my comfort zone. Whether you are part of KLI or not, I hope you to see the value you bring to everything you’re a part of, and if you don’t see yourself as a leader, I encourage you to look again.
Learn more about the Kirby Leadership Institute and the Leadership Certificate.
Of Possible Interest:
- Leadership 1001: Three Basic Leadership Qualities & Tips
- APIA Leadership: Beyond the Boat
- The Dark Side of Leadership