College Prep

Top 5 Leadership Skills to Develop in High School

High school students working together on a group project

It’s no secret being a good leader will help you succeed in business. High school is the ideal time to start developing leadership skills—not because it will help your college applications (though it definitely will!), but because high school is a time and place where you’re exposed to a wide variety of people and experiences. You’ll take classes and extracurriculars that will teach you different aspects of leadership, and you’ll be able to learn from and with the people around you. Read on for our top five leadership skills to develop in high school. 

1. Being a team player. This can be a tough one to wrap your mind around: even when you’re in charge, it’s not all about you. One major element of being a good leader is working with other people, not expecting them to work for you. You’ll have the opportunity to work on plenty of group projects in your high school classes, and most extracurriculars—drama, sports, debate team, you name it—feature team involvement of some kind. Make sure that you’re encouraging every member of your teams in order to boost morale and increase productivity. Here’s what being a team player looks like:

  • Listening to other people’s ideas with the willingness to implement them.
  • Compromising for the good of the team and the project.
  • Delegating. You shouldn’t shoulder all the work just because you’re in charge of the project; a good leader knows what to assign to others.

2. Independence. Yes, it’s important to be a team player. But you also need to develop your independence; you’re not expected to think the same as anyone else. If you can do the following things, you’ll be able to confidently present yourself to others in a positive way and be more productive.  Here’s what being an independent leader looks like:

  • Working on your own and making decisions without constant affirmation or supervision.
  • Developing your own opinion, regardless of what the popular opinion is.
  • Being comfortable standing your ground on issues you’re passionate about.

3. Communication: Being able to communicate with others is absolutely necessary for becoming an effective leader. You’ll never be leading in a vacuum; there will always be other people involved that need to know what your plan is in order to accomplish their jobs. Classes and extracurriculars like theater, English, and student government will all teach you valuable communication skills, as well as give you lots of practice. Here’s what communicating well as a leader looks like:

  • Being comfortable giving presentations to large and small groups.
  • Writing clearly. Emails and reports are part of practically every degree and job.
  • Keeping everyone in the loop with project updates and developments.
  • Being accessible, both in the way you talk and by being physically present.

4. Accountability: Accountable leaders follow through on their promises, whether they seem like a big deal or not. Deadlines are less flexible in the real world than they are in high school, and the stakes are higher. Use high school to practice keeping your commitments and taking responsibility for your mistakes. In high school this looks like:

  • Not checking out of your classes partway through the year (even if you have a serious case of senioritis!).
  • Completing your portion of a group assignment on time.
  • Showing up for practice or rehearsal.
  • Communicating with teachers, group/team members, and anyone else involved if you need more time or more support.
  • Admitting when you’re at fault.

5. Creativity: Being a creative leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great artist or musician. What it does mean is that you can think about problems from multiple angles. Good leaders aren’t stumped when they encounter a roadblock; instead, they brainstorm ideas of how to get around the roadblock. Creative problem-solving takes a lot of brainpower, but it’s a defining characteristic of good leaders. Here are a few examples of creative problem-solving in high school:

  • Resolving a scheduling conflict, either in your own class schedule or the school’s calendar of events
  • Finding a new, less expensive venue for an event you’re helping plan
  • Trying new ideas to help encourage people to donate canned goods for a drive
  • It also might mean noticing a pain point and coming up with ideas to remedy it; for example, if you notice students wondering how to get more community service hours for college applications, you might create a club focused on volunteer work or plan a school-sponsored blood drive. 

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