Bobby Audley is a college leadership speaker with Outside The Zone. OTZ seeks to increase student engagement and involvement on college campuses. To learn more visit and


Back in April a good friend Tweeted me simply this, #DontBe Intimidated. When I asked her what this was all about she explained that she has been having trouble speaking up at her new job. This reminded me of the simple power of Don’t Be_________. When I was in the 10th grade I fi nally heard my coach say, “Audley! You’re in!” I ran on to the lacrosse fi eld and the ball came right to me! At that moment I missed the catch, missed the scoop, fi nally picked the ball up and then threw the ball away! On my fi rst play ever as a varsity athlete! I missed the catch, missed the scoop, and threw the ball away! When I came off the fi eld my head coach didn’t even look at me. My assistant coach waved me over to him with his cane. My assistant coach looked at me and asked, “You nervous?” I said yes! Coach looked at me and I’ll never forget it, all he said was Don’t Be and then he looked back at the fi eld. Don’t Be. That was it.

Don’t Be is the reality that most of have untapped potential. Don’t Be is the understanding that most of us are in the positions we are in because someone of authority knows we have the ability, the skills, and the knowledge to fulfi ll this role better than anyone else they know. Most of us sit on the sidelines of life hoping we don’t hear our name called because then we might have an opportunity to fail! But deep down inside we all know that if we could just stop being intimidated, stop being scared, stop being nervous, if we could just stop being whatever it is that is holding us back and keeping us down…deep down most of us know we would soar!

I had the skill and the ability to soar in that moment but my nerves caused me to fail.

Understanding this, how do we as educators empower student leaders to soar? I believe we empower student leaders by taking a page out of the coaching playbook.

Great coaches have mastered the art of creating a culture of empowerment on their teams. Coaches are forced to lead from a place of absence rather than a place of management. A coach spends tremendous time preparing her players for their moment of performance and when their moment arrives, a great coach throws her players in to the fire! But a great coach does not leave her players alone; she stands on the sideline for her players. She is there to help them but not to do for them.

I have seen this same empowering dynamic with student leaders, specifically in my experience with student orientation leaders. This August I planned and facilitated orientation leader training with 12 student leaders. On the morning of their orientation I was walking around checking on the OLs I had trained and I noticed one OL in particular was having trouble with her group. The new students were not responding well to her icebreaker activity. My immediate thought was to step in and help out! I was confident in my ability to remedy the situation and ensure these new students had a great session! Right before jumping in I stopped and thought, “Am I coaching or teaching?” As a teacher I am expected to instruct and I have the ability to jump in at the first sign of struggle. As a coach I do not have this ability. I am forced to watch from the sideline. I always want to coach! When a coach stands on the sideline and watches a player struggle, they must trust that they have prepared their player for this difficult situation. So as a coach, I left the situation alone and moved on.

Later that day we sat down as a group to debrief their first day of orientation. This OL spoke up to admit that at first she was having a lot of trouble with her group. She said her students were not interested in doing any “silly icebreakers” and thought this whole thing was “stupid.” The OL then went on to explain how she handled this: “I said OK well do you want to talk? And they said YES! So we had a great discussion about college, what they’re excited about and what they’re nervous about. It was really a lot of fun!”

I was floored! If I had stepped in not only would I have prevented this student leader from growing in her struggle but also I would have forced icebreakers on this group of new students. This group had a great discussion about college and after all, isn’t that the point of breaking the ice in the first place? To open new students up! When I affirmed her decision and congratulated her on this experience she reminded me that she learned this from our training. When I told her that the purpose of the icebreaker session is ultimately to get the students interacting, socializing, and talking about their expectations of college. I had coached her well enough in training, now I had to accept that she was in fact ready to soar.

As a Student Leader Coach you have to prepare your students to the best of your ability in practice and then give them the space to perform. The risk with this approach is that when your student leader steps up to perform there is the risk that they might miss the catch, miss the scoop, and throw the ball away. In this moment I challenge you. I challenge you to tell your student leader Don’t Be. Don’t Be whatever it is that holding you back from achieving you full potential as leader. Don’t Be that thing. #DontBe Intimidated to give your student leaders this chance.