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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Secrets of Effective Student Leaders


Some leaders stop at serving and others take to grooming as well. Ronald Bills Agaba among the latter. The former Head Prefect of Mbarara High School, former Guild Speaker at Kyambogo University, former Chairman of Inter-guild Parliaments of Uganda and now a member of Strategic Leadership Forum, after failing to find a local book on leadership with relevant tips to help student leaders serve better, decided to do something about it.

Early this year he released Secrets of Effective Student Leaders, a 92-page book of sheer simplicity but rich with 51 tangible principles and secrets that student leaders can apply to excel. The book is also a passionate challenge to school authorities to invest in developing the capacities of students in leadership at all levels, and to parents to encourage their children to take up active leadership roles as early as possible.  

“I firmly believe the cliché that today’s young people are the leaders of tomorrow,” says the graduate of Procurement and Logistics Management, “but how much are we doing in equipping these young people with the necessary skills, knowledge and insights about leadership?”

His book is part of the answer that empowers student leaders to not just leave an indelible mark in their schools but to go on and influence the course of events in their communities and contribute to national development. This is something Dr. Ruhakana Ruganda re-echoes in the Foreword: “Though the author focuses on student leadership, his work goes beyond student leadership. This is simply because leadership exists at all levels of society as a necessity for social order, social development and resource allocation.”

Agaba’s book is different from most motivational books because he draws largely from his leadership experiences and what he learned from the challenges. He begins each secret with a motivational quote from an acclaimed leader or achiever around which he builds his ideas. For example while tackling the importance of good time management, he starts by quoting David Norris: “How you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected, but time is gone forever.”  

Like in any other field, those who excel at leadership are those who are deeply interested, he writes, “Student leadership is not about doing but being.” That without deep personal interest, one cannot serve the students’ cause effectively because he/she might bow out during tough times or make terrible mistakes.  “So before you think of entering this endeavour, hold a meeting with your conscience and ensure that your interest is the basis of your enthusiasm to serve fellow students…” 

The author uses hilarious anecdotes to drive some points home.  Like the story of a sub-county chief who on being served a notice of his impending transfer realised he had nothing to show for the 15 years he had served at the same station. So he hastily changed the direction of his office door as a mark of change. He uses this story to remind leaders to quit lazing and work harder for positive and meaningful change that will outlive them. 

Overall, the author gives a convincing coverage of open secrets to effective leadership such as self discipline, confidence which goes with standing for what is right, leading by example, respecting those you lead, forging unity among them and winning their allegiance, understanding your jurisdiction inside out, the beauty of delegating, the power of prayer, whetting one’s negotiation skills, how to let bureaucracy work for you, making friends and among others the importance of mastering the art of communication. He believes “failure to effectively communicate has been and continues to be the leading cause of unjustified strikes in most schools in Uganda.” 

Printed in Dubai, Secrets of Effective Student Leaders is devoid of the grammatical and factual mistakes that often saturate self-published literature. It truly is a timely and insightful work that our leaders and civil servants can learn a great deal from. But students particularly those interested in leadership will benefit more. As Gayaza High School Head Teacher Victoria Kisarale notes, “If all the students in leadership walked the talk in Agaba’s book, what a wonderful world we would have.”