Leadership – it’s complicated

 Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short, Associate Dean

In November 2011, thirty-eight Year 11 Grammar girls attended the Halogen Foundation National Young Leaders Day at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre along with over 800 students from other secondary schools. On returning, the girls were asked to reflect on the day and its impact on their forthcoming leadership roles in 2012.

This experience was the finale to Year 11 leadership preparation, an intense year-long assembly programme that included: Marrapatta camp leader training and assistance at Year 8 camps; core Health Studies leadership lessons; various leadership presentations (including an engaging delivery by the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Ms E Jameson); Open Day planning and realisation; House Group captaincy and co-curricular responsibilities.

The responses by the students to the Leaders Day were thoughtful and powerful.

 Work as a strong team and think of others not just yourself. Aileen Zhang

Always remember that leadership is about helping others find their voice. Phoebe Tronc

I like the idea of leaders not being ‘the chosen ones’ as I believe we are all leaders of the school and fully capable of doing an amazing job. I think that it is important for us to remember that, despite being selected for certain roles, we are all leaders of Girls Grammar. Tanvi Karnik

The limited, but growing, research into adolescent leadership suggests that adolescents conceptualise leadership differently from many adults. The general adult view of leadership as a traditional, positional structure is not necessarily the students’ preferred option. Their view is more of a non-hierarchical, relational and collaborative model.

In order to lead others, you have to lead yourself. Jordan Kahler

An effective leader is one who leads by example. Sarah Burton

Step outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of failure, because you will always regret the things that you don’t do, more than the things that you do. Jordan Kahler

Leaders must be brave to try new things and whether they turn out to be failures or successes, leaders must never give up. Tanvi Karnik

Adolescents show an understanding of the social effects of their actions and can distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leadership. Moreover, ‘moving beyond self to connect with the interests of others for pro-social purposes … has been a finding from both schools and sports literatures’ (Lissio et al as cited in Dempster, 2011, pp.6-7).

The speakers really inspired me to take more initiative in helping the community. We should run more theme days, not only raise awareness about a wide variety of different issues in our society, but to get all Grammar girls even more involved in making a difference on a daily basis. Georgia Athanasellis

In research conducted by Sacks, it was found that students who participated in community service ‘saw themselves as young leaders making a difference for others in need’ (as cited in Dempster, 2011, p.9). Our students obviously concur.

It is an integral element in a Grammar girl’s education to explore a range of leadership experiences and styles thus equipping her with a suite of skills and an opportunity to ‘find her voice’, enabling her to respond and adapt to any leadership style in her adulthood.

The leadership preparation undertaken by the emerging Year 12s is diverse and comprehensive. It also reflects a traditional, hierarchical structure. This style of leadership will be the most typical mode of operation each student will confront in the workforce, even though it may not be her preferred choice.  It is hoped that by knowing there are alternatives, and being encouraged to experience the strengths of these choices, each girl will be empowered to accept leadership roles in her community and professional life and perhaps have the strength and conviction to change traditional models.

The challenge for the School is to not lose sight of the differing leadership preferences of students. This can be achieved by acknowledging the student is not only a role model but also a change agent and seeking regular consultation with the student body at all levels. By maintaining democratic, transparent procedures, reassessing structures, encouraging student-initiated and student-led activities and collaborative decision-making, the whole School community is involved in the construction of leaders.

Two significant assemblies traditionally occur within the first two weeks of the year: the Year 12 badge presentation and the induction of the Student Council. At these events, the recognition of the roles and responsibilities of the Year 12 cohort and the reciprocal acceptance by the School’s student body of a new leadership group occurs. There is an expectation that all the Year 12s will embrace the responsibility and shared duty of school leadership by developing relationships and working collaboratively and creatively.

In closing, I hope the Year 12 cohort will consider these inspirational words by poet William Ayot:

This is your time.
For standing up to be counted, for being yourself,
or becoming the sum and total of your life,
For finding courage, for finding your voice,
For leading, because you are needed now.
This is your time.


Dempster, N., Stevens, E. & Keeffe, M. (2011). “Student and youth leadership: a focused literature review”.  Leading and Managing, Journal of the Australian Council of Educational Leaders. Vol. 17, .No. 2, pp. 1-20.

Ayot, W. (n.d.) cited in Munby, S. (2011). Seizing Success 2011: Annual Leadership Conference National College of School Leadership, Chief Executive Speech, p. 10. Retrieved 28 January, 2012 from http://www.nationalcollege.org.uk/index/events/conference2011/conference2011-videos/conference2011-videis-munby.htm


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