Student Leadership Experiences Help Build Strong Families

Sixth in a series of reflections on student life at West Texas A&M University.

Historically, leadership was naturally developed in the home. Families had a built-in leadership structure. As the family structures have broken down, natural leadership factories have also degraded, leaving a gap that colleges can attempt to fill.

Students spend about 1,000 hours in school during the school year, slightly over ten percent of their time. The balance of time in a given day is split nearly 50/50 between sleep, being at home and other activities. Implied in all this is that what students see at home and school in leadership and followership may be carried into later life. Suppose students who have attended university with positive leadership experiences can help instill those in their children. In that case, our efforts at the university could have a positive impact on family leadership.

No matter your views on family life, families are nearly essential for a free society. The leadership of the family helps create strength and resilience. William Bennett, former United States Secretary of Education, wrote in the New York Times, “The family is the nucleus of civilization and the basic social unit of society.” The piece was entitled “Stronger Families, Stronger Societies.” Scott Yenor, in National Affairs, likewise addressed the importance of the form and function of the American family:

All political communities depend on people marrying and raising children for their perpetuation. The most obvious end of a marriage is procreation, but, in a free, democratic society like ours, children must also be taught within families to take on the responsibilities of freedom and citizenship if the country is to survive and thrive. Indeed, until just a generation ago, it was uncontroversial to say that the family was the cornerstone of a well-ordered political community.

Margaret Thatcher, in the speech at the St. Lawrence Jewry, tackled the concept that the family was “the moral basis for free society.” There were no apologies about why this was important.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that our family dynamics shape how we behave in the workplace. Many aspects of life experience in the home are identified. Making sense of early family events, understanding how we behave with our team today and making changes happen are all traits instilled and developed in family life. These traits are important in various university leadership opportunities provided to students.

Bright Horizons provides resources for family life. Many parenting skills that work in the home are the same skills identified in our student leadership programs at West Texas A&M University. Trust, training, teamwork and a growth mindset are all strong compliments for any student leadership program. Dyke and Terry Rogers generously contributed more than $1 million to develop Rogers LEAD WT. The core values of the program resonate with attributes and capabilities that work in the home. These include acting with integrity, serving, striving for excellence, working together and planning to succeed in one’s dream.

The home and the family are critically important places for engendering leadership skills. Young people are likely to emulate what they see at home in places of study and work. But not all of those experiences are effectively developing strong leaders. To that end, it is critical for all universities to engender strong leadership skills in students, with a lofty aspiration of shoring up what may be lacking, and more importantly, to shape the future of family leadership. Required courses in leadership may assist, but the experiential realities of working with a group of people in a hands-on approach have great value.

The changing nature of American family life creates a complex and challenging environment for the sustenance of families and the leadership they help provide in a free society. While the world changes around us, definitions of social organizations that have existed since nearly the beginning of time are changing. However, we can be sure of this—strong families with strong leaders build strong communities, which in turn support strong families. Strong families are self-perpetuating, as are strong communities.

That is part of our job in the Texas Panhandle.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

Mike Knox is the Vice President for Student Enrollment Engagement and Success at West Texas A&M University

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