Sydney Scott, a freshman at Southeastern Louisiana University, continues her series on her life and times as a college student. View college life through her eyes and learn alongside her as she journeys to her future career. Share with the students in your life - this post is great for everyone.

We’ve talked a lot in the past few months about all the challenges you may face while transitioning from high school to college – getting a job, moving out, maintaining grades, and more. It can be overwhelming at times. One challenge that all of us seem to run into at one point is wanting (but not knowing how) to be taken seriously as an adult. Whether you’re looking to gain respect from your peers, teachers, or maybe even the people you work with, it all starts with great leadership.

Perhaps, you are thinking, Leadership? I’m in college, not a CEO with a corner office (yet!). And I get that – many people associate leadership with being the boss. Leadership is less about being in control of others, and more about being someone others respect and trust, which is why I believe that anyone can be a great leader.

As always, big concepts like this are much easier to tackle when you break them down into smaller pieces. Here are eight bite-sized ways you can work towards becoming a great leader, even as a young person.

Know thyself (and then be confident about it).

Let’s start with the most challenging one, shall we? Most people identify “knowing yourself” as knowing your favorite color, your zodiac sign (what’s up, fellow Aries babies?!) or the way you like your coffee (iced, and so much caramel that it hardly tastes like coffee, please). Instead, try thinking about knowing yourself in terms of branding. When you think of Nike and Adidas, what separates them from each other? What do each of the brands lack, and what do they get right?

Now take those same tactics and assess yourself: What separates you from others? What are you really passionate about? What are your goals? What’s one thing you are really, really confident in? At first, you may not have answers to all of these questions, but that’s the point. Do some reflection and figure out what you want and what you bring to the table. There’s no one else like you in the whole world, so what makes you tick? What are your values what are the experiences that shaped who you are? Once you identify what’s important to you, you can use those things to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Set and guard your boundaries.  

Ever had a boss ask you to work an extra shift that you really just couldn’t swing, but you said “yes” anyway? Or maybe you hate going out, but for some reason you have a hard time turning down offers from friends. If you relate, this one’s for you.

Having and sticking to boundaries has always been a tough one for me because I hate saying “no.” While I’m definitely not a pushover, I always struggle with finding where I draw my lines. Of course, knowing where your boundaries lie is a matter of knowing yourself. The more comfortable you become in your identity, the more comfortable you’ll with knowing when to say no. Good leaders know where their boundaries lie, and they don’t easily surrender them.

Gain trust by being honest and authentic.

Ah, finally, an easy one! Once again, this ties into knowing yourself and your boundaries. You may believe that boundaries are typically established with those you don’t know well, but I think it’s quite the opposite. Boundaries are something all healthy relationships require because they help us prioritize.

One of the best ways to earn respect from others is by being dependable and gaining trust, which is accomplished through honesty and authenticity. Good leaders are ones that are honest, tactful, and authentic. Gain the trust of others by staying authentic and being honest about your opinions. At the same time, make sure you are diplomatic when sharing your opinions. Others have invested time and resources, and often feelings, into their work product. Being sensitive to this, while being honest with your feedback, can seem a tricky tightrope at times.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong or make a mistake.

Here’s another one that’s still a challenge for me, because I hate being wrong. Sometimes I find myself holding back because I’m afraid I’m not right about something, when really, being wrong isn’t a huge deal, especially when you’re young. Maybe to you, part of this tendency is rooted in some sort of weird fear. I know that’s the case for me. It’s important for us to remember, though, that the fear of being wrong can prevent us from doing some really awesome things that will most likely require some trial and error.

To my fellow perfectionists out there: everyone makes mistakes, and you are no exception to that rule. I always remind myself, “there are no failures, only learning opportunities.” When you do make a mistake, use it as a chance to become better at whatever you’re doing, as a good leader would do.

Ask for feedback.

No one likes being critiqued, but a good leader knows that they are not infallible. Asking for the feedback and opinions of others is a great way to check yourself while making others feel involved (who doesn’t love to give advice?). Learning to finish your emails with, “I’d love your feedback on this!” or “Do you have any suggestions for ____?” is an easy extra step that’ll mean so much over time. You don’t have to take ALL of the advice that comes your way -- but do learn to reflect on it and weigh its value.

Side note: I recently read a blog from GirlBoss, which talked about the best way to handle receiving feedback at work. You can find that, along with other great blogs about leadership and work here.


Listening goes hand-in-hand with receiving feedback: really consider what those offering advice have to say. You don’t have to agree with the advice given to you, but effective leaders value the opinions of others and are willing to hear them out. Being considerate of what others have to say is the key to growing and transforming your own thoughts.

Learn to communicate efficiently, effectively, and often.

No man (or woman!) is an island! Having trouble understanding something in class? Did you forget to write down the date of that important meeting? Ask for clarification! Having a scheduling conflict at work? Talk to your boss! If you’re non-confrontational, chances are, you avoid having potentially awkward conversations at all costs. Avoiding communicating your feelings or needs does you way more harm than good in the long run. Lack of communication can destroy relationships, and the ability to communicate efficiently and effectively with others is something that great leaders understand.  

Piecing it all together.

See? It doesn’t have to be so complicated. You don’t have to wait to graduate and get promoted to become a leade. The world needs all sorts of genuine, caring, confident people! Start writing your own authentic, awesome story and I promise you, you’ll attract incredible things you never expected.

Image by Jess Waters from Pixabay