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Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Being "The Leader" Taught Me

Guest post written by Esther Ling
The Pencil Box
“Leadership, it’s not for me.” “Let someone else be the leader.” “I think I want to be a leader, but I’m not sure where to start.”

Sounds familiar?

We have all been there. Leadership is a scary word for people just starting out, for example, when we first became president of a club or the organizing-chairperson of an event.

Here are some things that being in a leadership position taught me.

It taught me to think on my feet
I was the chair of an organization at my university last year. Throughout the year, I experienced firsthand that events do not always go according to plan. Unforeseen circumstances cause you to change plans and come up with an immediate decision. When I was the leader, people naturally came to me reporting unexpected situations and looked up to me to make the call.

Independent But Not Alone

Here’s what I wrote a year ago recalling the tension while organizing a big event:
“I realize stress comes from not being in control. You have many uncertainties laid out in front of you – which call for effective problem solving. Sometimes, you lack the luxury of time and of the whole team coming together to decide on the best course of action. Plans are dynamic. The frustration comes because there are open ended options, and plans keep changing.”

One example I remember was a Project Demo-Day that had a few objectives. Last minute occurrences made it impossible to meet all of them. Holding a quick discussion with my main team, I saw that having multiple objectives was part of our wanting to kill a few birds with one stone, but to make the event a success we had to decide on our most important objective and compromise on the fringe ones. This real-time simulation gave me a firsthand experience of thinking on my feet.

It taught me to be brave to make decisions
I have never enjoyed making decisions that would have an effect on others. It meant you would be susceptible to blame later, should the decision bring about a negative effect. It is always easier to sit on the fence and wait for someone else to make the call.

be brave to make decisions

But then I became the Project Leader of a community project two years ago. It put me in a position to analyze situations and make the decision while everyone else sat back and waited for me to make the decision. It didn’t mean I would have the perfect solution, but stepping out to say “OK, let’s do this and not that,” taught me about being responsible and accountable for the team.

It taught me to direct attention in a group of people
I once read an online comic about introverts. “Q: How do you kill an introvert?” “A: At a large party, put poison in his drink and place the magic potion across the room.”

Leader Directs Attention

Yes, I’m an introvert and I prefer to stay out of crowds, much less have attention on me in a crowd. So how did I manage when I became the leader? I found out that I did have the capacity to speak and direct attention when I was needed. For example, I once led a team of students to run a programming workshop in a secondary school. There were a few instances when I had to get a message across to the whole team, and I naturally spoke up assertively to the crowd to get the message out. Once again, it was the act of doing so that stretched my boundaries and caused me to grow.

Don’t shy away from being a leader. I once mentioned in an article that university is a great place to learn, experiment and make mistakes. If you are afraid, it means you are stepping out of the comfort zone, and that is good because it will bring growth. If there is a takeaway from this article, it is these three words: “Have a go.” So, step out and have a go at being the leader!

Esther Ling
Esther Ling is a final year electrical power engineering student at Curtin Sarawak. She founded The Pencil Box in 2013, which has since been featured on The Ant Daily. The Pencil Box helps students accelerate their learning curve at university, by providing articles on self-development, leadership and creative learning. The Pencil Box website: www.jclathepencilbox.org
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