The leadership program gave me valuable experience the first two years of college by throwing me right into two year-long research projects. The first year consisted of a small group of myself and five other classmates working together on environmental issue research. Our semester-long research on prevalent environmental issues culminated into a social issue project which we completed by the end of the second semester. During the second year, I was given the opportunity to complete an individual social action project like the one we had done the first year. This time, however, I was able to choose whatever social, economic, or political issue I was interested in. I ended up focusing my research on gun violence in America where I brought a chapter of the gun violence prevention organization, March for Our Lives, to AU’s campus. The next component of the SPA leadership program was the internship semester. I liked to think of this semester as essentially bringing our leadership studies to apply them to real life situations. The accompanying internship seminar made us aware of leadership in practice by reflecting on our own firsthand experiences. We also had the opportunity to take an elective course to take a more focused look at different issues that leaders deal with most often. I chose to take my elective course in the School of International Service where I took a look at peace and conflict resolution at the international level. In this last semester, the program has brought all the topics together to see how they relate to one another. This has given me a comprehensive understanding of contemporary leaders and how to work well when I enter the workforce post-graduation.
Knowledge of Leadership
This program is truly an all-encompassing educational experience on leadership. From group social action projects to individual projects to learning our Myers-Briggs leadership type, I learned how to adapt as a leader. I had always thought that you were either born a leader, or you weren’t. I never considered myself a leader before my acceptance into this program and even then, it wasn’t until we took our Myers-Briggs leadership assessment that I fully recognized that leaders come in all shapes and sizes. As a woman, there are not very many examples of leaders in history books like us that we can identify with. This program showed me that not only men can be leaders. Everything really came full circle this year when I was watching the presidential inauguration and saw history being made. The first woman vice president, Kamala Harris, was inaugurated after being herself throughout the presidential debates. She was sassy, she demanded respect, and most of all, she led. In previous leadership labs we had discussed how leaders did not all have these uber masculine traits, but that there were successful leaders who exhibited much more feminine traits. This was very encouraging to hear in the classroom, but also to see in real life because of my own feminine leadership traits of being more of a nurturer to followers.
Learning about “Great Man Theory” in leadership was one of those ‘a-ha’ moments. It made sense as to why I had never thought about myself as a leader before because the educational system limited my understanding by only talking about “Great Men” and heroes in history class. The leadership program opened my eyes to whole new world, a modern world where individuals of any background can lead in their own way. In other words, you do not have to be a world political leader to be a leader, or even a great one at that. Leadership is too subjective to be contained in a neat little box by society’s ‘elite.’ Ultimately, the key concept I will take away from this program is how leadership in practice can be utilized for institutional growth and change for the better.
Reflections on Leadership Growth
Like I mentioned previously, the idea I had of leadership before coming to AU was very limited. I did not see myself as a leader and did not believe that I could be one. I always thought that because I tend to be more introverted, I would only ever be a follower. I basically had this idea in my head that “shy and timid people can’t be leaders.” That notion, of course, is not the case. Anyone can be a leader with the right tools and motivation to do so. You also do not have to be the President of the United States to be an important leader. You can be an important community leader and that is just as significant as being a leader of a country. Your positions may focus on different issues, but at the end of the day both are inspiring their followers and making difficult decisions with regard to their specific goals.
Leadership is also fluid. Different people can rise to the occasion and take point on one issue and then let another come forward. Most importantly, I have learned that being a leader means knowing when to take a step back and ask for help. Being humble and working collaboratively with others are key traits of good leaders. I think throughout my time in the program I have had to recognize this more and more, especially when doing group projects for different classes.
It is extremely important to work together with others in the context of effective leadership. During the first year of the leadership program, I had to work in a group with my classmates doing long-term research and implementing a social action project. It was imperative that each of us in the group listened to one another’s ideas because we all had the same end goal which meant that without consensus, we would likely not succeed. In that experience I learned what kind of leader I am, and I put that to use. Taking the Myers-Briggs Leadership Type test that year, I had found out that I was the type of leader that encouraged others to act. I took that information and began to recognize these theoretical leadership styles in practice during group work sessions. I took note of the strengths of my peers and when it came to doing assignments, I would encourage my group members to do the parts that I saw they were good at because I wanted the whole group to succeed.
It is also important to note that the concept of leadership is far from rigid. Just like so many other theories, it is always changing and improving with new experiences. With that said, someone can call themselves a leader, but they could literally sit on their butt all day watching TV. Actions always speak louder than words, and in leadership it is no different. Things are constantly changing because we live in a turbulent world, therefore leaders are always in the process of adapting to the world around them. Someone who just sits around in the ‘position’ of leadership without changing or doing anything differently will ultimately get left in the dust.
Over the years at AU, I have done things that I never thought I would have been capable of. I did not think that I would be the type of student to establish a new student organization on campus. Bringing March for Our Lives to AU was definitely a defining moment for me not only as a student, but as a leader. I saw the problem of gun violence across the country and how it had even affected my own family and I jumped up to act.