By Chase Rossman, ’17

What is a leader? Ask that question to ten different people and you’ll probably hear ten different answers. The consensus definition would probably be somewhere close to “the person who commands a group.” But a true leader is much more than that — actually, you could argue a true leader is the exact opposite. Take it from businessman Max de Pree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

So how can a leader be a servant? Ultimately, students aim to discover this for themselves as part of the Hanover County Emerging Leaders program. The Emerging Leaders program is a year-round leadership program consisting of high school seniors from Hanover County’s four high schools. Students apply to the program and attend weekly class sessions as they normally would in school. The program begins in the summer, continuing into the school year, and class sizes typically fluctuate around 20 students per school.

A major point of emphasis in the Emerging Leaders program is the student-driven year-long fundraising project. Students have the opportunity to develop their own group project from beginning to end, assigning real-life roles such as marketing and budgeting to team members. Students must listen closely to the needs of their community and choose their causes wisely, as program teachers are quick to stress the importance of the impact of the money, rather than the total amount raised. While the goal is always to raise as much money as possible, students know the real goal is to effect the largest positive difference in their communities.

And positive differences they have made. Examples of past projects range from helping fund a domestic abuse hotline, to cancer research, to supporting local animal welfare groups. One group heard a special needs teacher’s concerns regarding low classroom supplies. They not only raised money for supplies, but worked throughout the year to foster greater inclusion between special needs students and the general student body. Another began a drive to send inner-city youth to summer camp, believing all students deserve a chance to enjoy themselves and have some fun in the sun.

How does the University of Richmond factor into all of this? During the summer, students have the opportunity to come to campus for a week-long day camp consisting of a number of team-building and leadership exercises designed to strengthen team bonds and develop students into more complete leaders. The camp acts as a sort of kickoff event where students formulate ideas for their group projects and bond as a team. The campus program is managed through the School of Professional & Continuing Studies and its Center for Leadership in Education.

Some exercises performed by the teams required high amounts of mental fortitude and problem-solving ability, while others put students’ physical limitations to the test. The tower-building competition required teams to build the tallest tower possible without it falling over using only flimsy arts and crafts supplies. There were many ways to build the tower and many steps that went into building it, requiring good communication and teamwork among team members. Another event, the high ropes course, required communication and teamwork as well — from three stories in the air! With the help of youth activities company Challenge Discovery, students were literally walking the tightrope as teams attempted to navigate their way to the other end of the towering obstacle, located by the campus intramural fields.

This all may seem like fun and games to outside observers — and believe me, it looked fun — but the end goal of the Emerging Leaders program is to inspire a generation of better, more effective and motivating leaders. And what’s the best way for a leader to be more effective and motivational? Through proper teamwork and communication, two qualities we often find lacking in the modern workplace. But most importantly, Emerging Leaders must strive to become better servants — to their team member’s opinions, to their team’s goals, and to their communities. Regardless of your opinion on today’s youth, these Emerging Leaders should help to renew your faith in the future.