Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect myself to student leaders from my alma mater. As I worked with them, I often found myself asking “What makes a great leader great?” There are many theories on leadership and the study of great leaders. Various research articles suggest that leadership encompasses qualities such as stick-to-it-tiveness, charisma, effective communication, risk-taking and organization but, over time I have found one quality that truly encompasses all great leaders: The want for the success and development of others. In other words, selflessness.

The idea of selflessness as a genuinely great leadership quality may seem obvious, but I feel it is often overlooked for qualities such as vision, character and passion.  Looking at the great leaders before us, I see how each one gave all they had to the success and betterment of others.  Desmond Tutu, Abraham Lincoln, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Teresa are all leaders who gave and sacrificed for others.  On a less global scale we can all recognize great leaders in our everyday life, an amazing supervisor, a great principle or a teacher that once inspired us to pursue a career in education.  It is most probable that these individuals stick out in our mind because they sacrificed for our betterment.

How do I sacrifice for the betterment of my students?  And, I don’t mean the teacher cliches of grading at home, or sacrificing family time for planning; but rather, what am I doing from bell to bell?  How can I give my students what they need to become better chemists, better citizens and better students from the moment they walk into my classroom to the moment they walk the stage at graduation?  To be a great leader, one has to develop great leaders.  We need to focus on the whole student.  How can we get our students to embody the qualities of stick-to-it-tiveness, charisma, effective communication, risk-taking and organization in every aspect of their day?