Number. 40 © CDTL 2003
How Can Undergraduates Develop Their Leadership Capability?
Assistant Professor William Koh
Department of Management & Organisational Behaviour

As an undergraduate student, you may frequently ask yourself, “How can I improve my leadership capability while on campus?” Here are useful guidelines that will help you enhance your leadership potential while studying at NUS:

  1. Understand key leadership principles that can help you lead effectively. Read relevant books that will provide you with a conceptual understanding of successful leadership models that can guide you in your leadership journey. While classics such as Steven Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership are useful, there also exist books that discuss leadership philosophy in a local context. For instance, I published a book in 2002 entitled, I Believe I Can Fly: The Story of Xinmin Secondary, which detailed the key leadership principles and practices that two successful school principals used in steering a down-and-out neighbourhood school in Singapore to excellent performance in sports and studies. Examples of these principles and practices include:
    • Build your vision on strong values such as honesty and integrity
    • Lead by example.
    • Exhibit trust in followers.
    • Constantly communicate your main organisational vision.

  2. Keep a learning journal. Each time you see an example of successful or negative leadership, take note and record it in your diary. The behaviour in question can take place just about anywhere: in your family, in the religious institution you attend, or even during a movie/TV programme that you are watching. Then reflect: “What did the leader do to create a positive/negative impact on the followers?” In the case of negative behaviour, ask yourself, “What went wrong? How else could the leader have responded? Why did he/she do what he/she did?” Such probing questions will help you to understand the dynamics of leadership. You can then use positive leaders as your role models; conversely, you can learn from negative ones what not to do.

  3. Experiment with your own leadership style and observe its impact on your followers. You are well placed to experiment with leadership techniques and styles if you hold a leadership position in the NUS Halls of Residence, in your extra-curricular activities or in your temple/church/mosque. However to truly learn what works and what doesn’t, you must be a very keen and objective observer of reactions to your leadership. If necessary, talk to your followers and find out their true feelings rather than speculate on their emotions.

  4. Self-reflect after sensing the positive/negative reactions to your leadership. Ask yourself, “Was that the right thing to do? Why did my behaviour evoke such strong reactions from my followers?”

  5. Congratulate yourself if your leadership has evoked the sort of responses that you wanted. If not, still congratulate yourself for having learnt what not to do the next time around.

  6. In future, implement what you have learnt and continue to reflect on your actions so that you can further fine-tune your leadership capabilities and reinforce the learning cycle that you have started.

Leadership development is a life-long activity. One never stops reading, reflecting, experimenting and learning. The sooner you start on this journey, the sooner you will progress on the trail to greater leadership effectiveness.

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