Reflection on the SPA Leadership Program
I joined the SPA Leadership Program my freshman year before I had even stepped foot on campus as a student. The decision to join SPA Leadership has permanently shaped my experience at AU and my trajectory moving forward. SPA Leadership was the first community to extend a welcoming hand to me as a nervous freshman, and it has been there throughout my three years as an undergraduate as I have grown into a leader.
In SPA Leadership, the program’s curriculum and experiences stayed with me throughout me time at AU. In freshman year, my peers and I were placed in a year-long introductory course to leadership theory and development. Additionally, we were placed in interest groups pertaining to a policy area that we were passionate about. We selected an issue that we cared about, researched it, and presented a solution in the spring colloquium. For me, I was in the Gender and Sexuality Interest group. My group researched LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education and developed a website with a comprehensive curriculum that students or schools could utilize. That curriculum can be found at this link: https://edspace.american.edu/lgbtqinclusivesexeducation/ . In our second year, we were in another year-long seminar to further our understanding of leadership theory. We then got to complete the same style project, but this time independently. I studied my passion topic of women in political campaigns, which was incredibly rewarding. I planned on creating a candidate training for female-identifying students at AU in collaboration with the Women & Politics Institute, but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Through this program, I completed a Leadership Internship with Sapphire Strategies. We were encouraged to apply for internships in areas that we were interested in, and then we analyzed our internship experience through the lens of leadership theory. This gave me a valuable new perspective at my internship and helped me learn about the practicality of leadership theory in a professional space. Lastly, I completed a Leadership Senior Capstone Course that really dived into the depths and intricacies of leadership theory and the many different styles and interpretations of leadership there are.
This program increased my knowledge of leadership by exposing me to different theories of leadership theory that help break down a large idea into concrete and practical steps. One topic that always comes up is how leadership is notoriously difficult to define due to its ambiguous and amorphous nature. You know a leader when you see one, but it is hard to explain why exactly that person is a leader. This program gave me different perspectives and definitions to explain the different types of leadership I was seeing in my day to day life. These definitions and theories then helped me learn how to alter my own style of leadership to become more effective and stay more true to my values.
SPA Leadership changed my view of leadership by showing me that leadership is not an inherent trait or something that comes with being in a position of power. Leaders can be anyone, anywhere, at any moment. This helped me realize that I did not need to be born with some inherent ability that helped me be a leader. My leadership was something I could grow and develop through my actions and my choices. I also learned that I didn’t have to wait for a title to be considered a leader. A leader is someone who steps up to challenges to do the right thing, not automatically the person who is given an official title.
One key item that I took away from the leadership program is how to effectively research and articulate policy concerns, ideas, and proposals. Starting int he freshman year class, we were taught how to find credible sources, write annotated bibliographies, write literature reviews, and create policy memos. We learned to create professional posters that presented our findings and final product and presented our projects at colloquiums. These learning experiences have helped me so much during my time at American University, and I know it will continue to help me beyond in my professional career. Knowing how to effectively communicate at a professional and practical level is incredibly important, and I really appreciate how SPA Leadership helped set me up for success in these realms.
Reflection on My Personal Leadership Style and Experiences
When I first started developing as a leader, I thought a leader was someone who tells other people what to do. As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I would create a clear vision in my mind and give very specific instructions on how I wanted that vision to come to life. This usually ended up with me micromanaging and carrying a lot of the workload in order for the end result to be what I envisioned. As I entered college, I quickly learned that this was not an effective way to build a team or execute my visions, as it led to burn out and a non-cohesive effort. At American University, I learned that not only was it okay for me to give autonomy and flexibility to those on my team, but that it yielded better results. When I trusted different members of a team to carry out their responsibilities, they would come back with solutions and ideas that I could never had imagined. Because of this change in my perspective, my definition of leadership changed from someone who was leading the way to someone who inspired and enabled others to act and reach their full potential.
Learning about leadership theory has helped me more accurately understand and improve my personal leadership style. Prior to learning about leadership theory, my understanding of my own personal leadership was driven by instinct and my personal experiences of what did and did not work. And when I reached hurdles in my leadership, I often did not know what to attribute them to or how to get past those struggles. Once I began to understand leadership from a scholarly perspective, I was able to apply that to my own personal learning experiences and use it to help me become a better leader and overcome challenges.
Learning about leadership theory has helped me develop more skills to work collaboratively with others. As previously stated, while it is tempting to take total control and responsibility as a leader, so many benefits come from giving control and autonomy to different team members. Over the past few years, I have strengthened my ability to recognize the strengths that others carry (which are often strengths that I don’t have), and I am able to use that to put them in positions where their strengths can be properly utilized and developed.
I have built my theoretical and practical knowledge about leadership by consistently trying to apply theory to the leadership that I view in my day to day life. While watching club leaders, professors, and internship supervisors, I find myself observing what tactics they use to motivate and mobilize those around them. In watching these tactics, I am able to find new ideas that I can use in my own leadership and also evaluate the effectiveness of these tactics.
Watching other leaders in practice has also helped me see leadership as a process and not just as a position because I saw leadership everywhere, not just from those in positions of power. I have seen leadership in my friends who start petitions to make change at AU– from challenging unfair grading systems to calling for resignation of racist professors to demanding no school on election day. I have also seen leadership in students who stepped up to support friends and find solutions during the challenging times of the past few years, from pandemics to insurrections. I have also seen people in positions of power who did not behave as leaders. Once they had that position of leadership, they did not lead but rather rested on their laurels and did not strive to accomplish change or achieve goals. Observing all these have helped me really understand that leadership is not something granted to you, but something that you step up to and work towards everyday through actions.
In my years at American University, I have sought opportunities to become a better leader myself. I am never someone who is going to half-commit myself to something. Once I am involved in something, I am going to do the best I can to have my voice heard and positive change made. I strived to be a leader even when it was not a title appointed to me– doing my best to inspire those around me and motivate them towards shared goals and aspirations.