Do you think you need to get an MBA to learn proper leadership skills? An MBA from a reputable, accredited university certainly doesn't hurt, but you still need practical experience to become a really great leader. Fortunately, in many cases you're probably picking up those skills in school whether you realize it or not. Becoming conscious of these opportunities can help you learn potential lessons better and faster while you're earning your degree.
Most people who have lead teams, companies, or other organizations will tell you that "leadership skills" are actually pretty subjective. They are also constantly changing, since the skills you need in the digital era are often vastly different than those you might have needed during the Mad Men days of marketing. Of course, many skills remain the same, while some evolve over time.
Don't think you're wasting your time at school participating in student organizations or by taking that "easy elective" to give yourself a break. Here are some of the best leadership skills you're learning in school without even realizing it.
1. Working as a group.
This may seem obvious, but most people don't give enough credit to their experience working in groups. Each team you've been a part of has helped you become a better leader and team member in some way. One of the reasons group work is so prevalent in school is that it's one of the most important skills you can have when you enter the work force. It doesn't matter if it's a "group project" to help your sorority put on an end-of-year gala. Many of those exact skills may come in handy when you're planning an awards ceremony for a future employer or a Kickstarter campaign for a new project.
2. The art of tact.
Tact is a part of etiquette that many of us learn the hard way. We've all met that student, the know-it-all, who is the first to raise his or her hand whenever the teacher asks a question. This doesn't always sit well with everyone. If you're a team leader, you'll need tact yourself if you want to talk to the know-it-all in your organization about this trait.
Have you ever wanted to confront an intimidating professor about a grade you didn't think was fair? People respect those who stand up for what's right (or other people), so exercise those confrontation abilities when appropriate.
3. Taking or leaving extra credit.
Students usually fall into one of two camps, those who always do extra credit and those who rarely bother. A great leader takes on extra work carefully, and only when it's purposeful. An all-or-nothing approach isn't helpful, so gauge those extra credit assignments and take them on only if doing so will help you, your grade, or a group project.
4. Time management.
Putting a schedule together perfectly so you can work, spend time with your family, and even still make those Thursday happy hours is time-management finesse that will serve you well as a successful business professional. People think college students have a surplus of time, but they don't. With all that studying, participating in athletics, and applying for scholarships, internships, and the like, college or grad school is one of the most challenging periods you'll manage in your life. The skills you pick up during that time will continue to have relevance.
5. Learning to say no.
School is a great place to cultivate skills that will help you have a better work-life balance, and potentially be a better leader. You may need to say no to your lab partner about that event you really want to go to because you have to study, or to taking on one more extracurricular activity to avoid burnout. Americans are really good at saying yes, and it can have health consequences. Practice saying no. The example you set will make you a better role model to people working for you.
Whether you attend school online or in a traditional manner, don't assume learning takes place only in the classroom. There are opportunities to learn all around you, and many of them build qualities that can make you a better leader later on. With tuition costs being as high they are, look at it as a way of optimizing your return on investment.