Harnessing your leadership skills
Have you ever done something to challenge yourself?
When I was entering my second year of studying BMS at NUMed, I decided to challenge myself and run to be the President of our Student Association (SA). It was a risky move for many reasons, one of which is the fact that second year of BMS is a lot more difficult than first year. There was never a past President from BMS, and so no one could really prepare me for the year ahead, but I went on with it, and I’m very grateful I did.
I believe we all have leadership capabilities in us. It’s just a matter of thinking of being a leader in the right sense. Your definition of what a leader is acts as a guide for what kind of leader you would be. So, ask yourself, what kind of leader are you? What kind of leaders do you look up to? Below are my thoughts on leadership, how I attempted to act as one, and tips for harnessing your own leadership skills.
Generally, a leader should (in my opinion) act in two ways; as the glue that holds your team together, and as a protective border surrounding them. At the end of the day, the objective is to allow your team to fulfil its purpose without burning out your team members. Purpose, and people, together.
Your role as a team is only as strong and passionate as each and every member of your team is, and therefore your first priority should always, always be them. Even if one member feels left out, is unhappy or doesn’t feel like they belong, this topples the balance of your team and their roles. Therefore, creating a positive, safe environment internally is crucial to allow optimum productivity. You do this by communicating. Make sure everyone knows that the team is in it together, and that you have each other’s’ backs no matter what. Be honest about how you feel, if you’re nervous or afraid, because there really is no use hiding it. As a leader, you don’t need to be the strongest person in the room; you need to be you, and we’re all human. Knowing that you feel nervous too shows your team members that your strength stems from your collective focus, not from a strong leader. Strength in numbers. There’s no shame in the way you feel, and communicating your emotions creates bonds between you. At the end of the day, your team members should be able to trust you, speak to you, and be honest with you, genuinely.
#1: Communicate your emotions and create a positive environment where everyone feels welcomed. A healthy internal environment helps keep everyone together when things go wrong, and this should be your priority as a leader.
Listen and Learn
When in a situation where you’re brainstorming for ideas and require contribution from the team, allow them to all speak up. When they do, think about their opinions seriously and go back and forth with them, because it is valuable to have so many minds look at a situation from different angles. Never dismiss an idea as soon as it is suggested, as this can give people the wrong impression and may hinder them from contributing next time. No suggestion is useless, and if you have the patience and commitment, any idea can be considered. Also, know that you won’t always be right, and though you have good intentions, we aren’t perfect. Your teammates’ input can really take your team to the next level, and really there’s no use in arrogance or being stubborn. That’s not leadership, rather a sign of a weak personality, if you refuse to admit that someone’s idea might be better than yours.
#2 Admit your weaknesses and learn to take criticism from those around you, because they know you better. A leader that’s willing to bend their ways in the direction of improvement is always better than a stubborn one, and leads to more understanding within the team.
Anyone can fake being nice, but not many people can genuinely care about others enough that it comes naturally. I can’t give you tips on caring, that’s completely on you, but trust me, it’s the most rewarding feeling to care about people and making sure that they’re alright. People grow in so many positive directions when they’re cared for, and this allows for personal development of your team members! Sure, your aim is to innovate and improve your team’s role in its area, but make sure you focus on developing your team members too. Are they shy? Do they doubt their abilities, and therefore reject positions in the team? Notice these little moves, and nudge them towards the direction that scares them, with your full support. At the end of the day, it’s important that your team fulfils their role, but more important (to me, at least) that your members grow into better people from the experience. As a leader, you can contribute to the personal growth of those around you; do it. Be the one that guides them through their personal development. In a much bigger picture and at a larger structure, this type of thinking allows you to create future leaders as well. If your teammates felt positively about their experience, it enhances their confidence in their own abilities, which is a positive cycle leading to them tackling more challenges in the future. Far-fetched maybe, but what harm could come from focusing on the personal development of others?
#3 Focus on the personal development of your teammates, along with your team’s role in general. Ensure your members feel they have improved, even if slightly, than when they first joined your team. You can even ask them if they have skills that they hope to improve through this experience, and help them focus on those.
Now, as a team, no doubt you’ll have to make choices. Always know your reasons for making these choices. And by know, I mean obsessively know. Have mental justifications for the moves your team makes, not only to explain to those who question you, but for your team members too. When a goal or aim has sufficient justification, it reduces the hurdles that may demotivate your people. That way, the focus is on performance and execution, and helping each other out along the way. Being a leader also means being willing to take a hit for your team, and being the first person to do so. Your willingness to put the team first can really bring everyone together, but it starts with you. Ensure you have your team’s best interest in mind, and that no decision your make is in at the expense of anyone of your teammates. It’s not worth pursuing a goal that results in the sacrificing of someone’s mental and physical wellbeing. Remember this, because it includes you too.
#4 Know your reasons well, and make sure the team knows them too, to allow them to focus on executing tasks rather than worrying about intention or direction. Always make sure no one is carrying more load than they can handle, and create a “help each other” environment within your team. Don’t burn yourself or your members out.
Honestly, the way I see it, I never had to change or switch on “leadership mode” during my time as President. I just acted with a big heart pouring into my friends on the team, and it worked. Being kind, patient and listening to everyone made us feel like a family, and we spent so much time outside of the SA together. Once you’ve established how much you genuinely care for the team, the feeling grows.
I hope you’ve benefitted from this post! Get out there and challenge yourself!