How to Help a High Schooler Develop Leadership Skills

Reading Time: 11 Minutes

Students develop both academic knowledge and the groundwork for the personal and professional abilities they will use throughout their adult lives throughout the formative years of high school. Among these abilities, leadership is crucial in forming a young person’s character, self-confidence, and ability to meet problems in the future. However, how can someone develop these leadership skills during these important years? High school students can unlock their potential and develop into proactive, decisive, and sympathetic leaders with the correct support and chances. 

This article delves into practical strategies to help high school students refine and exhibit leadership skills.

1. Developing Self-awareness and Personal Growth

As high school students navigate the tumultuous journey of adolescence, it’s imperative they cultivate self-awareness, laying the groundwork for lifelong personal growth. Recognizing one’s feelings, motivations, and patterns is the cornerstone of authentic leadership. Here’s how to foster that development:

Encourage Reflection

Journaling: By putting thoughts to paper, students can process emotions, identify patterns, and make sense of experiences. Over time, this introspective habit offers valuable insights into their behavior, emotions, and reactions.

Self-assessment: There are numerous tools and quizzes designed to help individuals understand their personalities, inclinations, and areas of improvement. Such assessments can shed light on personal evolution and areas requiring attention when taken periodically.

Understand Strengths and Weaknesses

SWOT Analysis: Traditionally, a business tool, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), can be ingeniously adapted for personal growth. Students can identify opportunities for improvement and potential threats to their well-being or progress by analyzing their strengths and weaknesses.

Feedback from Peers: Sometimes, others can see aspects of us we’re blind to. Encourage students to seek feedback, which can be a valuable tool in understanding one’s strengths and areas of growth.

Goal Setting

Vision Boards: Visualizing one’s goals can be a powerful motivator. By creating vision boards, students can keep their aspirations at the forefront of their minds.

SMART Goals: Teaching students to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals ensures they’re not only ambitious but also realistic and grounded. This approach ensures clarity and a higher probability of achieving these goals.

Cultivating self-awareness during high school can significantly influence a student’s trajectory. Understanding oneself, setting clear goals, and continuously reflecting lay a robust foundation for future leadership roles and personal success.

2. Encouraging Effective Communication

Communication, often cited as one of the most critical soft skills, is more than just speaking or conveying a message. For aspiring leaders, especially high school students, mastering various facets of communication can be a game-changer in their personal and professional lives. Here’s how:

Active Listening

Beyond Hearing: Active listening is not just about hearing words but understanding and interpreting the underlying emotions and intentions. Students can forge deeper connections and ensure better teamwork by truly focusing on the speaker.

Techniques: Techniques like nodding, paraphrasing, and asking open-ended questions can enhance active listening skills. Encouraging students to practice these in group discussions or one-on-one conversations can make a significant difference.

Constructive Feedback

The Art of Giving: Constructive feedback is about providing specific, actionable, and positive advice. Students should be taught the importance of being kind, precise, and solution-focused when offering critiques.

Receiving with Grace: Equally important is accepting feedback without getting defensive. By viewing feedback as an opportunity to grow, students can continuously improve and foster a positive learning environment.

Public Speaking

Overcoming Fear: Public speaking can be daunting, but it’s a valuable skill that leaders often need to rely on. Engaging in debates, presentations, or even drama can help students overcome stage fright.

Practice Makes Perfect: The more students can speak in public, the more confident they’ll become. Platforms like speech and debate clubs, school assemblies, or even leading group discussions can offer valuable practice.

Effective communication is a multifaceted skill that goes beyond mere talking. High school students can set themselves up for leadership roles where clear, compassionate, and compelling communication is paramount by honing active listening, mastering the art of feedback, and building confidence in public speaking.

3. Building Relationships and Teamwork

In leadership, one’s ability to foster relationships and promote teamwork often determines the success of a venture. High school presents an array of opportunities for students to learn the intricacies of interpersonal dynamics. Here’s a deep dive into cultivating these pivotal skills:

Importance of Building Trust

Authenticity: Genuine relationships are built on sincerity. Encourage students to be their true selves, emphasizing that authenticity fosters deeper connections than any facade ever will.

Consistency: Trust isn’t built overnight but is cultivated over time through consistent actions and reliability. Highlight the significance of commitments, punctuality, and maintaining one’s word in establishing trust.

Group Dynamics

Roles and Responsibilities: Each team member plays a unique role, be it the motivator, the organizer, or the critical thinker. Awareness of these roles helps leverage each member’s strengths for the group’s benefit.

The Value of Diversity: Diverse teams bring various perspectives, leading to innovative solutions. Encourage students to appreciate different viewpoints and understand that disagreements can lead to better outcomes when approached constructively.

Conflict Resolution

Open Communication: Emphasize the importance of open dialogue in conflict situations. Suppressing feelings or avoiding confrontations can lead to bigger issues down the road.

Empathy and Understanding: Before reacting, it’s essential to understand the other person’s perspective. Promote empathy as a tool for de-escalating conflicts and finding common ground.

Solution-Oriented Approach: When conflicts arise, encourage students to focus on finding solutions rather than assigning blame. This proactive approach can diffuse tensions and lead to productive outcomes.

The high school years offer students a microcosm of real-world interpersonal dynamics. By building trust, understanding group dynamics, and mastering conflict resolution, they can prepare to navigate the complexities of relationships and teamwork personally and professionally in their future endeavors.

4. Finding Opportunities for Practical Application

Understanding leadership, in theory, is just one side of the coin for high school students. The other is the practical application: diving into real-life situations where they can implement, refine, and truly understand the nuances of leadership. Fortunately, schools offer many opportunities for students to hone their leadership skills in real-world contexts. Here’s a closer look:

Clubs and Organizations

Broadening Horizons: Whether it’s the drama club, science club, debate team, or chess club, each offers a unique environment for students to learn teamwork, organization, and leadership.

Taking the initiative: Students who feel a gap in the clubs offered can be encouraged to start their own. This demonstrates initiative and allows them to experience the challenges and rewards of leadership from the ground up.

Student Government

Representation and Advocacy: Being a part of the student government teaches students about representation, advocacy, and the importance of voicing the concerns of their peers.

Organizational Skills: Planning events, budgeting for activities, or representing the student body in meetings with school administrators provides hands-on experience in organizing, negotiating, and decision-making.

Community Service

Making a Difference: Community service projects, whether a tree-planting drive, charity fundraiser, or tutoring program, instill a sense of social responsibility and the importance of giving back.

Leadership in Action: Leading or even participating in these initiatives helps students understand the intricacies of project management, delegation, teamwork, and the impact of collective effort.

5. Developing Critical Thinking and Decision Making

Leadership is not just about guiding others; it’s about making informed decisions, evaluating complex situations, and always staying a step ahead. Critical thinking and decision-making are foundational skills for any leader. For high school students, this development is paramount, ensuring they can handle intricate situations in their academic, personal, and eventual professional lives. Here’s how they can hone these skills:

Encourage Problem-solving

Case Studies: Introduce students to real-world scenarios or past events that require critical thinking and problem-solving. Analyzing these situations allows them to understand the complexities and decision-making processes employed.

Hands-on Projects: Assign projects requiring research, information synthesis, and solution development. This not only improves their analytical skills but also fosters creativity and innovation.

Ethical Considerations

Debates on Ethical Dilemmas: Organize debates or discussions around contemporary ethical dilemmas. This helps students appreciate the nuances of moral choices and the importance of integrity in decision-making.

Ethics in Leadership: Highlight prominent leaders who have demonstrated strong ethical values, illustrating the long-term benefits of moral integrity and the pitfalls of the opposite.

Making Tough Choices

Decision Trees and Lists: Teach students to create decision trees or pros-and-cons lists when faced with tough choices. This structured approach allows them to visualize possible outcomes and make informed decisions.

Role-playing Scenarios: Engage students in role-playing exercises where they face challenging situations. This provides a safe environment to practice decision-making and receive feedback, preparing them for real-world applications.

6. Building Emotional Intelligence

In leadership and personal development, emotional intelligence (often referred to as EQ) is a pivotal component. While IQ might define one’s ability to process information and solve problems, EQ highlights the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions while also recognizing, understanding, and influencing the emotions of others. As high school students navigate the tumultuous waters of adolescence, fostering EQ can equip them with invaluable skills for life. Here’s a closer look:


Introspection: Encourage regular self-reflection, allowing students to identify and understand their emotional triggers and reactions.

Feedback Reception: Create an environment where students can receive feedback about their emotional responses, fostering greater self-awareness.


Pause Before Reacting: Teach students the value of taking a moment before responding to emotionally charged situations, ensuring that reactions are thoughtful and measured.

Coping Mechanisms: Equip students with tools like meditation, deep breathing, and positive affirmation to handle emotional upheavals.


Setting Personal Goals: Encourage students to set short-term and long-term goals, teaching them to channel their emotions productively towards achievement.

Resilience Building: Foster a mindset where challenges and setbacks are seen as learning opportunities, bolstering intrinsic motivation.


Active Listening: Stress the importance of truly listening to peers without immediately formulating a response, enabling genuine understanding.

Perspective Taking: Cultivate exercises where students place themselves in another’s shoes, deepening their empathetic outlook.

Emotional intelligence is an integral facet of holistic development. For high school students, a strong foundation in EQ can enhance their interpersonal relationships and amplify their leadership potential, decision-making, and overall well-being. In a world that often emphasizes cognitive intelligence, the soft power of EQ remains a vital asset, enriching both personal and professional spheres of life.

Social Skills

Conflict Resolution: Teach students techniques for addressing and resolving disagreements, emphasizing the importance of maintaining emotional balance during such interactions.

Teamwork and Collaboration: Through group projects and team activities, foster an environment where students learn the nuances of working together and understanding the emotional dynamics of group interactions.

Decision Trees and Lists: Teach students to create decision trees or pros-and-cons lists when faced with tough choices. This structured approach allows them to visualize possible outcomes and make informed decisions.

Role-playing Scenarios: Engage students in role-playing exercises where they face challenging situations. This provides a safe environment to practice decision-making and receive feedback, preparing them for real-world applications.

7. Seeking Mentorship and Continuous Learning

As the adage goes, “Leadership is a journey, not a destination.” For high school students aspiring to leadership roles, understanding the value of mentorship and the need for continuous learning can shape that journey, making it more informed, enriching, and successful. Here’s a deeper dive:

Finding a Mentor

Benefits of Mentorship: A mentor can offer insights from personal experience, providing direction, feedback, and encouragement. Highlight the invaluable guidance and networking opportunities that mentors bring to the table.

How to Approach: Teach students about approaching potential mentors — how to reach out, express their goals and aspirations, and the etiquette of maintaining a fruitful mentor-mentee relationship.

For example, fostering connections with an experienced SAT tutor can provide students with invaluable guidance, tailored strategies, and a supportive learning relationship, all instrumental in achieving their target scores.

Quad Education stands out for its exceptional SAT Tutor service, offering students personalized guidance and proven strategies that pave the way for success. “For instance, Mary Banks. With nearly 40 years of experience in academia, she has held multiple senior roles in admissions and student services at prestigious institutions like Columbia University and New York University. Initially a teacher, Mary transitioned into student services, where she specialized in admissions and career services across various departments. Known for her engaging personality, she builds long-lasting relationships with students, serving as an invaluable resource. She brings her vast expertise to Quad Education as a passionate and highly experienced admissions consultant.”

Role Models

Historical Leaders: Whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, or Mahatma Gandhi, history is replete with leaders who’ve left indelible marks. Studying their lives can offer students valuable leadership lessons.

Modern Leaders: Encourage students to identify contemporary leaders in various fields they admire. Analyzing their strategies, approaches, and ethics can provide real-time insights into effective leadership.

Continuous Education

Reading is Leading: Introduce students to seminal works on leadership, from classics like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie to modern works like “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek.

Courses and Seminars: Encourage students to attend leadership seminars or online courses. Many institutions offer programs specifically designed for young leaders, providing knowledge and networking opportunities.

Feedback as Learning: Emphasize the importance of seeking feedback continuously. Each critique is a step towards becoming a better leader when taken constructively.

8. Embracing Failure and Resilience

In the path of leadership, not every endeavor will culminate in success. However, how one perceives and responds to failure can significantly impact their leadership journey. For high school students, understanding the value of setbacks and developing resilience can be the cornerstone of their future leadership successes. Let’s delve into the significance of this perspective:

The Growth Mindset

Beyond Fixed Thinking: Introduce students to a growth mindset, where abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and effort. Contrast this with a fixed mindset, where one believes their traits are static.

Reframing Challenges: Encourage students to see challenges not as insurmountable obstacles but as opportunities to grow, learn, and evolve. This shifts the focus from avoiding challenges to embracing and learning from them.

Bouncing Back

Stories of Resilience: Share stories of renowned leaders who faced significant failures before achieving success. Examples like Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs can highlight how setbacks can be springboards for future accomplishments.

Coping Mechanisms: Equip students with tools and strategies to cope with setbacks, be it through stress-relief exercises, seeking support systems, or simply taking a step back to gain perspective.

Reflecting on Failures

The Value of Reflection: Encourage students to take time after a setback to introspect. What could they have done differently? What did they learn? How can they apply these lessons in the future?

Constructive Feedback Loop: Foster an environment where students can give and receive feedback post-failure. Constructive criticism, when taken in the right spirit, can illuminate areas for improvement and growth.

9. Practicing Time Management and Responsibility

Leadership demands often come with a need for adept time management and a strong sense of responsibility. As high school students step into roles that test their leadership mettle, understanding how to juggle various tasks and uphold their commitments becomes crucial. Let’s explore the facets of these essential skills:


Understanding Value: Guide students in discerning between urgent tasks and important tasks. While urgent tasks demand immediate attention, important tasks align with long-term goals and values.

Time Blocking: Introduce techniques like time blocking, where specific blocks of time are allocated for specific tasks, ensuring that priority projects receive undivided attention.

Avoiding Procrastination: Equip students with strategies to overcome procrastination, helping them to stay on track and meet deadlines.


Recognizing Strengths and Weaknesses: Emphasize recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses. Effective leaders delegate tasks where others excel, ensuring optimal results.

Building Trust: Teach students to trust their team members. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but empowering and entrusting others to contribute meaningfully.

Feedback and Guidance: When delegating, it’s essential to provide clear instructions and remain open to questions. Encourage students to maintain open channels of communication and give constructive feedback.


Owning Mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. However, leaders stand out by taking ownership of their errors, learning from them, and making amends when necessary.

Being Reliable: Stress the significance of upholding commitments. Being someone people can rely on builds trust and strengthens leadership credibility.

Transparent Communication: Encourage open and transparent communication, especially when things are unplanned. Being forthright about challenges or setbacks can foster a collaborative problem-solving environment.

10. Encouraging Global and Cultural Awareness

In an interconnected world, effective leadership transcends borders. Future leaders must have a global mindset, appreciating the nuances of different cultures, traditions, and socio-economic dynamics. This is the opportunity for high school students to cultivate global and cultural awareness, enhancing their leadership potential in diverse contexts. Here’s how they can do it:

Engage in Exchange Programs

Immersive Learning: Exchange programs provide students with firsthand experience of different cultures, educational systems, and leadership styles, offering insights that classroom learning might not capture.

Building Global Networks: By interacting with peers worldwide, students can forge connections that could benefit them in future collaborations or initiatives.

Adapting to New Environments: Living in a new country, even briefly, teaches adaptability, a key trait for any leader navigating the complexities of global engagements.

Stay Informed

Regular Updates: Encourage students to keep abreast of international news. This helps them stay informed and allows them to analyze global events from a leadership perspective.

Debate and Discussion: Organize forums or discussion groups where students can debate global events, fostering a deeper understanding of international dynamics and their ramifications.

Think Tanks and Model UN: Participation in think tanks or Model United Nations events can help students delve deeper into global issues, enhancing their diplomatic and negotiation skills.

Encourage Diversity

Diverse Teams: Highlight the value of having diverse teams. Varied cultural, social, and economic perspectives can lead to richer discussions and more comprehensive solutions.

Cultural Sensitivity: Organize workshops or seminars on cultural sensitivity, teaching students the importance of respecting differences and understanding the nuances of global interactions.

Diverse Role Models: Showcase leaders from varied backgrounds, emphasizing how their unique experiences shaped their leadership styles and contributions.


Leadership is not a destination but an ongoing growth, self-awareness, and adaptability journey. From the confines of a classroom to the expansive stages of the world, leadership principles remain rooted in understanding oneself, empowering others, and navigating the complex tapestry of human interactions. For high school students standing at the threshold of numerous possibilities, the seeds of leadership sown today promise to bear fruit in countless ways throughout their lives.

In this journey, the significance of robust support systems cannot be understated. As torchbearers of knowledge, teachers provide the foundational tools and insights to nurture budding leaders. They offer wisdom from years of experience, guiding students toward their potential.

With their unwavering love and support, parents act as the bedrock upon which the edifice of leadership is built. Their encouragement, feedback, and sometimes even constructive criticism help shape the character and resilience of young leaders.

Peers, too, play a pivotal role. They act as sounding boards, challengers, and collaborators, reflecting the real-world dynamics of teamwork and mutual growth. Together, these support systems create an environment where leadership can thrive, fostering a generation ready to take on the world’s challenges.

Ultimately, leadership is not just about standing at the helm; it’s about learning, evolving, and making a difference. As these high school students embark on this exciting journey, the lessons they learn, the failures they overcome, and the support they receive will shape not just their leadership narrative but the future of our global community.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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