As they built towers out of paper Dixie cups Saturday, a group of Quad-City area high school students had a self-discovery about their leadership skills and styles.
Gathered at the new Western Illinois University-Quad-Cities Campus in Moline, more than 50 high school students participated in the hands-on learning and other activities as part of a daylong Quad-City Teen Leadership Academy retreat.
For the first tower stacking exercise, the students were put in teams of like leadership styles, which included thinkers, directors, socializers and relators. In the second round, the teams were mixed up to see how they worked with others.
“Knowing your leadership style is helpful,” said Allison Hupfer, a sophomore at Augustana College, Rock Island, who helped organize the retreat. “I’m a director, I like to show people what to do. If you know what you are at a younger age, you might be able to use it more.”
Hupfer added that each group’s approach demonstrated how they lead. The exercise was one of several activities designed to help the young people recognize their leadership potential.
The leadership academy is a new initiative of the University of Illinois Extension/4-H and the Illinois Math and Science Academy. The program, open to teens age 14-18, is funded, in part, by a grant from the Amy Helpenstell Foundation.
Moline High School junior Sam Anderson found himself in the directors group. “We liked to be in charge and delegate to others,” he said, adding that when the directors were grouped together “everyone had to take charge. It was harder to work together.”
But when the students were mixed up, he said, “it taught us to use other people’s skills.”
Brandon Sanchez, a senior at Moline, never gave a thought to the types of leadership. “I felt you were a leader or you weren’t,” said Brandon, who fit in the socializers. “This definitely let me know what strengths and weaknesses I have.”
Eva Dynes, a junior at Annawan (Ill.) High School, learned that her skills fall in with the relators — those who like to relate to each other and avoid conflict. “Everyone wanted to make everyone happy, so we didn’t get much done,” she said. But she said she will go home knowing how to better relate to her friends and classmates with different leadership traits.
Augustana sophomore Amber Dalgaard, who helped organize the inaugural retreat, said the day also offered suggestions for how the students can step up their leadership back at school and in their communities. “I hope they walk away with more of a sense of how they can make a difference. And if they didn’t think of themselves as a leader, I hope they realize they are.”
“The leader doesn’t have to be the head of the pack,” she added. “Especially the shy ones, I hope they see they can lead from a different position. They don’t have to be the center of attention to be the leaders.”
Diane Baker, the 4-H metro youth educator, said the academy was formed to make sure all kids “have the opportunity to lead.”
For a first-time event, she was “thrilled with the response.” The popularity now has organizers planning to offer the same training a few more times this year.
“We’re really interested not in the kids that have leadership opportunities, but the kids who have leadership potential and may not have that opportunity,” Baker said.