Reflecting On My Time in the Leadership Program
- How has your definition of leadership changed over the past year or during your time at American University?
The biggest change in my definition of leadership has been understanding there is no single set of traits that define a leader. There can certainly be traits that help, but no leader is truly the same. A military strategist could be one successful leader while another leader could be someone who sits behind a computer and sends directive emails all day. These two lead in very different ways, but in the right situation with the right people, each one is just as effective as the other. While I may feel like my outspoken and direct leadership approach is the best to command attention, ultimately there are just as effective ways to lead that are just the opposite.
2. How have you experienced an increase in awareness of yourself and others in relation to leadership?
One of the biggest tools when discovering my awareness of leadership has been discovering my own leadership tools and methods. In the first year leadership retreat we discussed our top five leadership traits and how they are often demonstrated in leaders. My top strength was called command. Knowing and understanding this trait has given me better awareness of myself and my skill set, and also helped me in my awareness of others by understanding how I interact with them. This command trait I often see in myself because of my ability to thrive in emergency situations. In the face of danger and extreme tension I find myself very levelheaded and clear minded. This gives me the ability to better command the situation and delegate tasks. In this situation, the command trait is very useful, but I also understand from my awareness of other people that this trait is not as useful in calmer settings. This trait is something to be aware of both for myself and for my interactions with other people because as I’ve learned not all leadership traits are useful in every situation and there are moments where the command trait could damage the situation.
3. How have you demonstrated the skills necessary to work collaboratively?
I think the biggest area in growth of leadership has actually been from learning to work collaboratively. There are leadership lessons to be learned from working with a group of strong leaders, and also lessons from being the leader. In the first year experience in the leadership program, I worked with the Public Health and Policy Issue Group, which was full of amazing leaders. I had an amazing teaching assistant who had lived all over the world, and worked with amazing students who had backgrounds in starting their own companies to drafting initiatives to their state legislatures’. This experience was very humbling as it taught me how working collaboratively as a leader doesn’t always mean being the leader. In my Issue Group we all had amazing ideas and contributions and responsibility was shared. I learned that to work collaboratively sometimes means being a leader of a specific part of the project while following for other parts while others lead. This is something I’ve carried on with me and experienced in my previous internships over years since this Issue Group. Moreover, I found that leadership is very intertwined with group collaboration as I worked side by side with a group of leaders.
4. Have you built your theoretical and practical knowledge about leadership?
Throughout my four years in the leadership program I have built a theoretical and practical knowledge of leadership through events, retreats, group projects, and courses. For the first two years of leadership, the fall semesters focused very heavily on leadership theory. This ranged from more modern and accepted approaches like how leaders differ and change based on the situation and group, to old, traditional leadership styles where leaders are born not made. This theory has been the background and foundation for the practical knowledge I then developed through events, leadership retreats, projects, and internships. This practical knowledge was my opportunity to take the theory and test its relevance through social action projects and team based activities. For example, implementing the social action project with a group of other leaders showed the various styles of leadership proving the more modern approach that all leaders are different, which was extremely obvious through a group of differing leaders and styles.
5. Describe how you better understand leadership as a process, not a position?
The best way I can explain learning leadership as a process is by explaining how leadership has evolved. In the first year of the leadership program we discussed leadership theory; this started with looking at how leadership started off with the idea that leaders were born not made. This would make leadership a position; it wouldn’t have been something you develop or study through a process, but rather something that exists in you or it doesn’t. It’s a position you hold and it doesn’t change or bend depending on the situation. However, modern leadership, which we later discussed, is a process. Meaning that depending on the type of leader or the people present, leadership changes. It is a process to adapt your leadership style to both the situation and the people. Meaning it isn’t a position where you act the same every time in every scenario, but a process which you develop and change as time goes on and circumstances evolve.
6. Discuss how you have sought opportunities to enhance your leadership development and engaged in leadership behaviors.
Very recently, I had a fantastic work opportunity to put my leadership to the test, which gave me a chance to engage directly with all I had been learning throughout the last four years in my program. At the law firm I currently work part-time at, my boss told me she liked clerks who took initiative and made themselves irreplaceable. Often this is through being the “czar/czarina” in different categories we were working on or had cases in. Initially this was intimidating as I was very new to the job and felt like there was nothing I was remotely close to being an expert in; however, then I realized the leadership enhancement opportunity I was presented with. While this opportunity was intimidating it gave me the chance to take charge of a certain category and focus on it, be a captain and educate myself along with other people to assist our office. Now, leading team meetings on my subject and being the ‘go to’ person for work in this area is my favorite part of the day.