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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts in Student Leadership
Your Degree is not a Receipt

When you graduate, you're given the most elaborate piece of paper you'll ever touch, unless you're Nicolas Cage and you find the original Declaration of Independence.

But, you're degree isn't merely some receipt that shows you purchased a college education. Your degree should be way more than that.

Here's what I mean.

Click to read the full article

Click to read the full article

Putting Money Where Your Brand Is

Here's a little more proof that investing in yourself (and your company) is a good idea.

AT&T just did a cool deal where they empowered marketing and advertising students at the University of Arizona to design national ad campaigns. 

While I've heard of classes or student groups coming up with business plans or marketing campaigns for companies before (Cool People Care has participated in such an endeavor before), this is the first time I've seen it funded.

Most of these assignments are merely hypothetical and students take what they've been learning in class and dream up something big and bold. Company reps come to class one day and listen to the students pitch, offer feedback, and then the students get graded by the professor.

But this time, AT&T made it as real as it gets, offering student teams $3,000 to pull their ideas off. They're shelling out cash for unproven ideas that might not work. Why?

In the hopes they get one that does.

Millennials can be tricky to reach and market to. So why not leverage this generation to harvest ideas that can help you reach their peers? This seems to be a good move and an win-win-win for all parties involved.

The catch, again, is one of investment. AT&T puts money down as an investment in their own brand and company. They didn't just send out a survey or ask to be a part of a class. They took the time and the risk to see if something great could happen.

Big returns can happen even with a modest investment. But no return will happen with no investment.

Leading Your Peers for a Good Cause (podcast)

The Cannonball Podcast is back! After a week hiatus, I've got a fresh episode for you, recorded on site at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.

While on campus to keynote a leadership event, I had a chance to talk to students about two key issues facing young leaders:

  • How do you lead your peers - people who are the same age as you?
  • How do you use a cause to grow your organization's overall impact?

It was a great discussion, cut far too short due to my mishandling of the microphone. I'll get better at that, I promise.

Give this week's Cannonball Podcast a listen to learn more about leading your peers and leading anyone towards a positive cause in the world.

As always, be sure to leave a comment with any questions. Or, suggest a future episode topic as well. And don't forget to subscribe to The Cannonball Podcast in iTunes as well.

Leadership Lesson #9: Strong Opinions

The leader's ability to change things is in direct proportion to the strength of his or her opinions.

Do you want to know how to never offend anyone? Curious about how to never be questioned or criticized? It's easy - just have no opinions.

Of course, this is also the pathway to getting nothing meaningful done.

I've found that leaders who are able to inspire, captivate, and motivate others to accomplish some great big goal are those who have a strong opinion about how and why to get there. These leaders cast a vision and lay out a compelling reason as to why this vision needs to become a reality.

This may ruffle some feathers. This vision may be bold and cause those who are lazy to ridicule or dismiss it. When that happens, know that your opinions are finally strong enough and that your vision finally matters.

Don't back away from these moments. Continue to have a well-formed and worthwhile opinion about the way the world should be and then work hard to make it so.

Leadership Lesson #8: Stop Watching

Leaders don't find themselves on the sidelines; they're found on the field, in the middle of the play, with their head in the game.

While allowing time for observation and learning is prudent, eventually leaders are those who stop looking and start leading. An entire lifetime can pass you by while you wait and watch from the perceived comfort of the sidelines. But the real task of leadership happens by doing, not observing.

If you want to lead, you also can't wait to be picked. You must pick yourself - start doing that thing you wish others were doing.


Like, right now.

I've found that leaders don't wait to get elected or appointed or chosen by some committee. The best leaders I know witnessed something that needed changing, saw something that needed improving, or found something that could be done better. And then they went and did it.

The first step of leadership is to cross that fine line between watching and doing.

Leadership Lesson #7: Leadership is Inconvenient

The true evidence of leadership isn't seen in times of comfort or convenience, but rather in times of stress and difficulty.

You certainly didn't run for your position or accept your appointment to lead others because you thought it would be an easy gig. At least in the back of your mind, you knew this would be hard work and that more than once you'd have a hard go of it.

What we must realize however, is that in those tough and difficult moments, our leadership skills must be their most honed. In moments of stress or difficulty, our true leadership abilities will be showcased. It is for these hard decisions and long days that leaders are needed most.

When things get tough, how do you lead? I am not interested (nor are your followers) in how well you can lead when things are easy. When the outlook is rosy and the decisions easy, anyone can lead, quite frankly.

It was for the tough choices that you were elected. And much like banana comes out when you squeeze a banana (and tomato when you squeeze a tomato), so leadership must come out of you when you are figuratively squeezed by the pressures and possibilities around you.

Leaders Learn (podcast)

I had a fantastic time in Austin, Texas last weekend keynoting the Texas Leadership Summit. That thrill was topped only by getting to speak with students and staff afterwards about why leaders must keep learning in order to be effective.

In short, conferences and other learning opportunities allow the leader a chance not only to learn content and ideas, but to also learn from peers and to learn about oneself. This triple threat is the kind of opportunity that keeps leaders sharp, focused, and leading for maximum impact.

Give the new episode a listen and subscribe to future episodes in iTunes. And, be sure to leave your thoughts on this week's installment in the comments below.

Leadership Lesson #6: Leaders Experiment

Leaders are willing to take the calculated risks necessary to achieve something great.

Cures for diseases and new inventions that forever alter the course of history usually only come about through experimentation, some process of research and discovery that results (eventually) in a big breakthrough.

This is what leaders do, too, of course. They're willing to try and try again until they find a method, story, or idea that works to influence and impact others. In short, they're not afraid to try something that doesn't work because that's the only way they'll arrive at something that does.

Experiments aren't haphazard, of course. The ones that work take planning, analysis, a team, and measurement. Try and try again, but make sure your attempts are calculated, guided, and determined.

What leadership tactic will you try next? The very next idea you try could be the one your community has been waiting for.

The Urgency of Leadership (podcast)

Fresh off the mic! This week's podcast was recorded at Northwest Missouri State University, where I keynoted the Bearcat Leadership Training. The theme of the weekend? #YOLO: You Only Lead Once

The big idea? That student leaders often only have one opportunity to lead their peers. Most only get one shot at president, secretary, or committee chair. While this can be a bit stressful, it also provides an opportunity for legacy.

Give this week's episode a lesson. I hear from students and staff about:

  • Why urgency is an opportunity for legacy
  • How students can begin to leave a legacy in a very short time
  • The importance of goals and other members in leading quickly and leading well.

As always, you can subscribe to The Cannonball Podcast via iTunes and get fresh episodes sent to you when they're released each Friday.

And, be sure to leave a comment or question below, especially if you have an idea for a future episode. Thanks for listening!

Why Leadership Requires Creativity (podcast)

Today's podcast comes your way from The College of New Jersey! I was there recently to keynote their Leadership Lockup event, a gathering of student leaders for a day of learning and skill-building before the semester started.

I had a chance to speak with some of the student organizers of the event to discuss why they chose to focus on creativity as a key theme of their event (the place was decked out with Dr. Suess quotes and Cat in the Hat centerpieces). Give today's episode a listen to learn why creativity matters to leaders.

As you heard, creativity helps leaders:

  • Make their organization original
  • Originality helps a student organization to stand out among its peers
  • Such a unique angle generates excitement and commitment from members and followers, which can help ensure long-term success for the organization

As always, you can subscribe to The Cannonball Podcast via iTunes. And, don't hesitate to suggest a show theme or ask a question by commenting below.

The Perfect University

Finally, the perfect university has been found. So, if you're a prospective college student reading this, stop your search. I'm about to save you a lot of time. And, if you're a current student who is a bit dissatisfied with your school, get your transfer papers in order. It's time to head to Monsters University.

How do I know about this place? Instead of building a typical movie website, Pixar set up MonstersUniversity.com to showcase the setting for its new film, a prequel to Monsters, Inc. Take a look at the site. It's as robust and informative as many a real college's. You'll find info on Greek life, announcements about campus construction, and financial aid news.

Of course, there's a commercial worth watching, too.

The reason this college looks so perfect is because it doesn't exist. We humans have an uncanny ability to idealize that which doesn't exist, to paint the grass as greener somewhere else, and to hope our lives away, telling ourselves that someone else has it way better somewhere else. We're all very bad at appreciating the present time, place, and situation in which we find ourselves.

I've seen this in the church world, the work world, and sometimes I hear it in the college world. Something goes wrong and the second it does, a student is longing to go to another university, assuming things aren't as bad/crazy/weird/hard/dramatic/lonely/stressful/meaningless/boring. And so they start dreaming of leaving, missing out on all that can be had by staying put.

Certainly, transferring is the right decision for many students, but bolting at the first sign of unease or dissatisfaction may not be a wise choice. After all, until you're in the thick of something - like a college degree - you may not fully understand a place and a community and all of the ups and downs that go along with it.

Besides, if you think you've uncovered the perfect university, don't enroll. You might ruin it.

Leadership Lesson #4: Legacy is About Impact

Legacy isn't about titles or elections; it's about impact and relationships.

For those who lead, it's easy to get caught up in the titles that will appear on a resume and the perceived prestige that comes with an "official" leadership capacity. But, any member has as much potential to impact someone else as a president does. Anyone can forever change someone else regardless of title.

And this is ultimately how our legacy will be measured: not in leadership titles earned, but rather in hearts and minds impacted. If you're looking to lead, don't wait to be elected. Go ahead and act on the desire you have to make someone or something else better.

Legacies aren't written in minute books or on composite photos; they're written on the hearts of others.

Past Leadership Lessons