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7 Lessons in Leadership from 7 Years in Leadership Positions

Final-year Governance, Economics, and Development (GED) student at Leiden University College in The Hague, the Netherlands

When we think of leaders, we often think of power-hungry lone wolves – people of incomparable intellect or charm. Images of politicians or CEOs – often, white, male, and old – come to mind. However, these stereotypes about leadership can be misleading, as they do not depict the qualities of a good leader, nor the reality of who most leaders are. In truth, a leader is anyone who guides a group of people in their work. Chances are that you are or have been a leader yourself – you might just not have thought of it in these terms. Maybe you are currently on the board of your student association, guiding a group of interns at your first job, or you are simply planning out the work for your group presentation for a class.

A good leader is able to inspire their team to aim higher and stay motivated during long-term projects. They are able to identify the unique skills and knowledge that each team member brings to the table, thereby increasing creativity and making each person feel valued. They foster collaboration within their team and hold it accountable.

Over the past seven years, I have had a wide range of leadership positions, including serving as head of program of a nonprofit organization and as president of a student-led think tank. In each leadership position, I have had to learn things on the go. I made plenty of mistakes, got constructive feedback, and even got to celebrate wins with my teams. Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders like a career coach who coached me pro bono, older students at LUC as well as instructors. All of these experiences have taught me that even though there is no such thing as a perfect leader, there are leaders who care and who are willing to put in the time and effort to improve. With that said, here are 7 tips for leadership that I’ve learned after 7 years in leadership positions:

1. Learn how to delegate.

Delegate without abdicating by:

  1. Delegating a task to a team member.

  2. Setting a deadline by which you would like them to finish the task.

  3. Setting a date for a check-in meeting halfway along the way to incentivize them to work on it early on, create accountability, and to ensure that they have the opportunity to ask you questions early on if they get stuck on something.

2. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.

Ask the people you are working with for feedback on a regular basis to (1) show them that you care and (2) identify ways in which you can improve as a leader.

3. Lead by example.

If you would for instance like your team members to complete their tasks on time, always be punctual yourself.

4. Give credit.

Give credit to everyone for their contributions to make them feel valued for their work and to incentivize them to continue to work hard.

5. Have mentors.

Establish a relationship with a mentor – a leader who is older or more experienced than you, whom you can ask for advice and whose experiences you can relate to.

6. Set shared goals.

Set shared goals together with your team from the start. Social psychology research shows that this renders team members more likely to collaborate and work together harmoniously.

7. Flexibility matters.

Stay flexible. I know that this is easier said than done, but whenever you work with people, especially with a larger team, it is very likely that some things will not go as planned. Know that this is a part of the process, remain calm, and adjust to the circumstances.

All the above strategies have helped me develop a more effective and compassionate approach to leadership and I hope that they help you the next time you are in charge of dividing tasks in your presentation group or chairing a student association meeting. Though I find these strategies most useful, it is worth noting that everyone’s leadership style differs and that there are many additional strategies that exceed the length of this blog post. Thus, I would highly recommend doing further research, speaking to your peers about their approaches, and trying out different strategies to see which suit you best.

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