Prompt: When entering into leadership studies, what was your initial opinion on your leadership style, and how has that changed, and where do you see it going? As a leader and global citizen, how do you see yourself changing the world?
To be open and honest, as the advisor for the Presidents Leadership Program, I haven’t entered Leadership Studies as a student and therefore can’t speak from the perspective of a student in the program. The closest I get is through advising appointments, being a teaching assistant for Leadership Studies courses, and helping to coordinate events in the Center for Honors, Scholars and Leadership. Nonetheless, being surrounded by the students and faculty that make up these programs has influenced the way I view leadership.
I joined the Center for Honors, Scholars and Leadership in the Spring of 2015. In my interview, I discussed a pipe dream I have of creating a “Mental Health” high school class containing aspects of Positive Psychology, Social/Emotional Intelligence, Metacognition, and Mentoring. It seems to me that a systemically oriented class like this could accentuate what is best in people and communities and could be used for students who come from privileged backgrounds as well as with marginalized populations. Indeed, we’re all “at-risk” of not becoming our optimal selves. I believe creating a space for intervention and prevention early on could have long term effects on student’s academic performance and mental health, school and community environment, and also combat the stigma associated with mental illness. Regardless of what I thought leadership was at the time, apparently they saw some qualities of leadership in me and my idea.
So what did I think leadership was then? Leadership, to me at the time, was captured through the idea that one could, “Lead from the front, lead from behind, and lead from the side,” a tag line I learned at a leadership conference I attended while employed as a Peer Educator. I applied this idea to myself and the people I worked with as a General Manager of a barbeque restaurant. I lead from the front by showing the employees I worked with how to use the computer system, how to embody basic customer service skills, and what was expected around cleaning tasks. I lead from the back by correcting employees so they could learn and encouraging their successes. Finally, I lead from the side by incorporating the feedback the employees gave me and by using their expertise and knowledge along with mine when we faced new and challenging situations specific to the restaurant. I guess what I liked about this idea was that I didn’t have to have all the answers, nor did I have to have all of the authority. I suppose it meant to me that leadership was about shared responsibility, which is something I still hold onto.
Leadership now? I suppose I saw leadership as learning one’s trade, learning one’s specific job, and then passing it on. But no…I have seen leadership be much more. The biggest change that I’ve noticed in how I see leadership is in the emphasis on being active and activism.
As the TA for LEAD 200, I was witness to student’s self-directed Global Change Campaigns (GCC) where they were asked to not only navigate working in groups but also to create a project from scratch. The course assignment mirrored how change happens in the real world setting in that students were asked to figure out the necessary steps for completing their project without too much of a blueprint. The students first had to decide which topics would be considered for their projects. The narrowing of topics to the environment, politics, and education came at the cost of other topics that did not have enough votes (i.e. gender equality, poverty, and protecting animals). Each group then had to choose their lead leader, narrow down their topic, and begin collecting research and data to support their GCC.
Students were asked to figure out how to write a press release, what information to include, and how to get it distributed to UNC media outlets. They were asked to navigate booking rooms for their events and figuring out the costs of their events; sometimes having to make tough decisions when faced with the realities of resources. And in some cases, the biggest feat of all was doing this with one’s peers who were balancing other priorities (often heavy workloads as they are dedicated students) and who presented with their own strengths and areas of growth. All in all, each project was differentially successful at different parts of the campaign though it was my impression that every student shared in the learning process; myself included.
What was most difficult for me as a leader during this course was that I frequently wanted to give more direction to the students. At the same time, I was struggling with a similar question in the training I’m receiving to be a psychologist. How much of a role does one play for students in their learning process, for clients in their growth process? At what point is it beneficial to step back and let others handle responsibilities and at what point is withholding the support I feel I can offer not giving a student, client, or group the best chance at success? I thought I’d sit back, grade some journal reflections, and help the students learn some concepts about leadership. But alas, leadership is active…and it seemed to me that, I’m not sure how else to say this, “something happened” in that class…and maybe it was change.
Stay posted for the next 00Change Blog prompt.