The Keys to Advising Dynamic Student Leaders


I’ve worked in higher education for a decade. Over those 10 years, I’ve run into a number of supremely talented students. These individuals were dynamic presidents of clubs, members of Greek lettered organizations and resident assistants, just to name a few.

In my current professional position, I find myself once again working with some of the best. Their exuberance and characteristics are a handful but equally as exciting to work with. They challenge the norm while struggle to manage their time.  As much as they bring to the table, there’s always room for more growth.

As an advisor or mentor to these types of student leaders, it is key to channel and cultivate the ups and downs of their energetic personalities. Our jobs as student affairs professionals are to help them develop into the best campus contributors as possible. I am constantly trying my hardest to avoid stunting their growth, while dishing out pertinent advice. My students know what they’ll get from me. For the most part, they’re up for the challenge.

Based upon my experience and research as well as the needs expressed by my students, I created a plan to work effectively with the young leaders.

I’ve dubbed this methodology, P.E.A.R. Advising. This method is specifically geared to dealing with dynamic leaders from an individual perspective. P.E.A.R. stands for Patience, Expertise, Authenticity and Relevancy. These integral components are just a few of the major coaching tools made to get the best out of the amazing players.

The dynamic student leaders is going to test your patience. They either know a lot or think they know more than they do. On Monday, they’re excited about a new prospective opportunity. On Tuesday, they’re rolling their eyes at you for not approving an unplanned event. You can’t let this get to you. They’re young, energetic and passionate. These types of students have unbridled talent. Harnessing that isn’t always easy. As an advisor, make sure you are helping them find places to best use their skill sets. I remember tormenting my advisors as a college student. Their patience was tremendously helpful. Take their mistakes in stride and help them run smoothly towards the finish line.

It is imperative that we know our stuff. As an educator half stepping on educating leads to a trip to nowhere. One must be knowledgable of the best practices in relation to higher education and not be afraid to use them. I am constantly seeking ways to integrate academic and leadership based theories into regular conversations. It encourages our student leaders to not only have a passion to research but shows them that we aren’t just making up ideas on the fly. An ability to include theory into pop cultural tropes or something they’re interested in will work wonders. We remind the super students the role that experience and know how can play on their lives. It’s a confidence booster to the student that knows so much to see their advisor go back worth between swag and theory. Always look for opportunities to teach because the best of student leaders are always eager to learn.

In his incredible new book, Leading Imperfectly, my colleague and friend James Robilotta discusses the concept of Authentic Leadership with readers. He states, “As Authentic Leaders, we must have the courage to find our story and share it with others.” Student leaders want to hear the real deal. When it comes to the best student leaders I deliver it to them as straight as can be. When telling stories of my times as a student leader, they hear about the glory days and the mistakes. I let them know when their bullshit is recognizable, as well.  Be professional and remain honest. Also make sure to find out about life outside of student leadership. What’s their stories and how does that play a role in their decisions? Students want to know that you care about more than just club business and signing off on paperwork. Keep it funky.

It’s more than just knowing details on the latest Justin Bieber record or keeping up with the Kardashians. Dynamic student leaders are in part who they are because of their strong grasp on the pulse of their fellow students. We can learn a lot from our students, and this is our opportunity to do so. If you’re uncomfortable with what’s poppin today then prepare to get your bubble burst. Find a way to use education and mix that with the most relevant of cultural happenings and demonstrate how this can turn into leadership. You don’t have to be the coolest person in the room. In fact, in a room filled with students that will usually not be the case. You must know though, who that person is, and why are people listening to them. Let those incredible student leaders know that you can reside in multiple worlds. Being able to comprehend the complexities of trending topics will take you places.

This post is in reference to a longer presentation available for workshops and presenting by MrJeffDess. To book this presentation or to view it in full inquire to MrJeffDess@gmail.com


jeff trill

Stay Trill, folks.