Leadership with a Sense of Responsibility

Authored by: Chadwick School: Sharon Song and Jared Severns

High School students at Chadwick School were interviewed to explore their perspective on leadership through the lens of responsibility. The Student Research Ambassadors (Jared and Sharon) and the interviewees discussed how they show leadership in their classes and in everyday life. The Research Ambassadors were interested in discovering more about their fellow students’ perspectives on what leadership and responsibility meant to them. The five interviewees—Michelle, Olivia, Jake, Connor, and Emma[1]—are all juniors in high school at Chadwick School, California, USA. They all offer similar, but unique, understandings of leadership and responsibility. While some might think responsibility and leadership are simple concepts, the research process reveals that there are slight nuances to each definition and how it is expressed. Chadwick students understand that a sense of responsibility has a positive influence on leadership and this can be seen through collaboration, accountability, and self-management.

The interviewees believe leadership and responsibility work together to create collaboration, more group participation, and greater group efficiency. Some people may think that leaders tell people what to do. However, the interviewees believe that leaders should help their group, not boss them around. Emma says that if you are in a position of leadership, you have to contribute as much as everyone else, thereby creating a supportive system for the team. Responsible individuals participate in group discussions. Olivia believes that responsibility helps the group to function properly, so if you are irresponsible, it tends to take away from others’ opportunities.  Similarly, Jake says a lack of responsibility is detrimental to the entire group as it affects everyone you are working with. The interviewees see leaders as team members, not as bosses. While it is important that leaders contribute as a team member, Chadwick students also understand that leaders should not be doing everything for the group. Connor makes a great point that leadership should not be “one guy doing it all.” Instead, Connor says that the leader should encourage others to pitch in. Leadership does not always mean being in the spotlight. Even when one does not have a titled leadership position, one can still be responsible by “filling in the gaps” for the designated leader: “support what the leader is doing, and you can also support what the leader is not focusing on; you can bring it to attention,” (Connor). He gives the example of baseball: although he is not the Captain of the Team, he was given the responsibility of being the informal “Captain of the Dugout”, ensuring that the teammates clean up the dugout after a game.  Olivia has had similar experiences as Connor, even when there was not a designated leader. She shows leadership traits by taking initiative for what needs to get done and being a team member in groups. For example, Olivia often reaches out to friends and helps facilitate discussions when they run dry. A leader’s lack of responsibility affects their leadership negatively. While leadership with responsibility encourages group efficiency, for a leader to be responsible, they must master effective communication.

Chadwick students think effective communication allows the leader to guide well. Olivia believes responsibility is many things, but one is the ability to work with peers and communicate.  Through school, Jake gives the example that being responsible can be as small as communicating with teachers when you are absent. A further step is asking his teacher if he needs to make up any work. Engaging in sports is a great way to show leadership, whether guiding the new teammates, or encouraging others to work hard (Emma, Jake). Michelle believes that a responsible leader ensures everyone is held accountable. Olivia adds on, stating that leaders should be committed to lead well as someone who is just being a leader for a title will not have a strong sense of responsibility; without responsibility, one cannot be an efficient leader. Olivia understands that there are different perspectives on leadership when in charge of a group, club, etc., She gives the example of co-leading the debate team:

As a leader, I thought that the responsibility for our debate team was for us to give up spots to go to competitions… should take a step back to allow newer debate team members to go and compete to work on their skills. The other leaders felt that we should serve as examples and go ourselves. So, I think responsibility makes a big impact on what kind of leader you’ll be. Both sides have valid arguments, but I think … communicating how you’ll be responsible for your job will make a big impact on how you feel as a leader and how others perceive you.

Emma continues, stating that a good leader ensures that the entire group is effectively communicating with each other, which is essential for the success of the group. These students value a leader who communicates well, divides out positions, and explains how to do tasks. Chadwick Students see that efficiency, self-management and hard work are essential qualities of a leader.

To be an effective leader, one must be responsible for him/herself and put in diligent work.  Emma states that doing the homework is a responsibility, although one may not like doing it. Since leadership should make an element more effective, Michelle also says that completing homework makes the class period more productive. On the other hand, Jake, adding nuance, says that being responsible tends to be for things that one enjoys doing. Therefore, one should ensure that it is handled well and cared for, which shows that that person cares about the cause.  Oftentimes, leaders need to look upon themselves and are required to take initiative. Through online learning, Michelle believes it takes courage and leadership to be the first person to participate. These small actions show initiative and encourage leadership. In general, if someone wants to be a leader, they also need to be responsible, otherwise they would be a hypocrite (Michelle). Michelle furthers her point by saying that if someone is responsible, then they will feel a need to step up and become a leader.  She also sees the value of having organization skills and how it impacts leadership for the better, especially with her experience in MUN. Michelle explains how to enhance leadership skills:

People that you look up to who are leaders, see how they engage with others and why people think that leader is so personable, or just so good at being a role model. Then try to implement those characteristics into your own leadership.

Emma believes that in order to improve, leaders also have to be able to take constructive criticism. At Chadwick School there are five core values: responsibility, compassion, respect, honesty, and fairness. Along with these virtues, the school also has an Honor Code (see appendix). The Honor Code establishes trust between the students and teachers, especially during an assessment or project. Often during an assessment, the teacher will casually walk out of the room, making a statement that they trust the students. Emma says that we have a responsibility to be fair to each other and to uphold the Honor Code. She described it as feeling like an internal pressure and raising the bar for oneself. In tangent to the Honor Code, Michelle says that even though there is pressure to uphold the Honor Code, it results in a closer relationship with teachers because of the students’ sense of responsibility.

Jared and Sharon found that students at Chadwick believe leadership means both to be responsible for managing others and oneself, and also being a team member who contributes equally. Chadwick students believe that not only must a responsible leader have grit, they must also be committed to the group. Leadership and responsibility go hand-in-hand, and oftentimes one can show these traits without having a leadership title. Leaders often need to take initiative, to communicate, and to be invested.  One way for schools to build global leaders is by providing their students with informal leadership opportunities. While having a class president is beneficial to the class, there are many other ways to build leadership and responsibility. To foster growth, students should have an open mind and participate in clubs/classes that are collaborative, student driven, or/and strengthen public speaking. By having courage and being curious, students are not only building their leadership skills, but are also setting the precedent for admirable future leaders.


Chadwick School’s Honor Code

In a community devoted to learning, a foundation of honor among individuals supports respect and harmony among its members. With an Honor Code, a community is afforded a freedom that otherwise would not be available. This freedom can only be sustained if each individual takes responsibility to conduct himself or herself in such a way that the spirit of mutual trust that sustains honor is not compromised. Under the Honor Code of Chadwick School, it is expected that all students will demonstrate honesty and integrity in their conduct. Acts of lying, cheating, and stealing compromise the principles of the school community. We pledge our honesty, academic integrity, sportsmanship, and stewardship to the school community, and we expect others to be responsible and to do the same. An Honor Code is only as strong as the students and faculty who actively support it. By encouraging an atmosphere of honesty and hard work, we serve our school and fellow students by making Chadwick a better place to learn. For example, as a means to that end, members of the faculty are not required to proctor their tests — instead, they are encouraged to foster an environment in each of their classes that honors the spirit of mutual trust, and they may therefore leave the room when they see fit to do so.

THE HONOR CODE Membership in Chadwick School’s student body requires sincere intent and effort to act with integrity. I will therefore strive to promote Chadwick’s core values of respect, responsibility, honesty, fairness, and compassion and will encourage the same conduct from all members of the school community.

THE HONOR PLEDGE A student’s signature on work to be graded will represent an affirmation of the following pledge: On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this assignment.

[1] Pseudonyms are used in reporting the findings.