Is a social media influencer a leader? What is the difference between an influencer and a leader? What happens when an influencer or a leader is glorified?
Students in the second-year cohort of the Upper School Leadership Program
recently tackled these real-world questions with Dr. Austin Council, instructor of Leadership at Virginia Tech. Dr. Council spent the day at Steward on April 14.
“There’s a difference between leading and influencing,” Xavier Nelson ’25 said. “Influencers strive for popularity, going after it to gain followers. In leadership, you know you can’t please everyone. You have to make tough decisions to lead in the right direction and get positive results. Influencers are looking for popularity and to not be disliked. Leaders have to face some adversity along the way.”
The conversation, which also included the relationship between leading and following, brought academic concepts to life for the students in ways that were applicable to their own lives.
This second-year cohort has spent the academic year exploring the impact of leadership in the broader community, specifically global engagement and social justice. Meanwhile, first-year students are learning their own leadership styles. Dr. Council did a card sorting exercise with those students, in which they identified their own top four values out of about 30 options and shared them in small groups.
“We discussed whether they were surprised with what they chose and how those values might change over time,” said Eliza McGehee, program coordinator. “Dr. Council advised them to center themselves on those core values when they have a tough decision to make or anytime they’re in a leadership role.”
The Leadership Program, which is in its second year at Steward, is growing with nearly 40 students participating across both cohorts. Ms. McGehee and Scottie O’Neill, assistant program coordinator, look forward to adding the third and final cohort in the 2023-24 school year. Applications for the 2023-24 school year will open in September.