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200129- Musings on Leadership

Recently, as the project has become more extensive, and I have been leading more people, I naturally came to think more about what is an “effective leader,” and how I could be one. I read many research papers on leadership and watched videos on YouTube, but I soon discovered that they were all useless if I did not try to change myself. So these are the few things that I’ve learnt and decided to change:

During this project, one of the biggest things I have learnt (and am learning) is that aptitude does not equate to success. In other words, just because one is smarter doesn’t make one a more competent leader. Although ability is related to effectiveness as a leader in many respects, what counts more is one’s social skills (or social intelligence). These skills include effectively communicating with others, showing empathy, or sharing a “vision” with the members. For long, I believed that intelligence or ability often correlates with leadership, and charismatic or authoritarian leaders translate as better leaders. But people are more attracted to leaders that are empathetic and humane.

What I’ve also learnt is that appearance is quite related to leadership as well. This aspect is not about being handsome or pretty, but it is also about dressing up neatly or maintaining an “open posture.” Dressing up neatly or being organized shows that you are well-prepared and trustworthy, both of which translate as effective leadership. When I am leading a small group, my appearance wouldn’t matter a lot, but when I am working with a large group, I cannot communicate 1:1 with every person. Then, the only way to project leadership upon those who I am unfamiliar, and cannot communicate 1:1 would be through my appearance or posture. I did hear this on YouTube channels or other people, but it was only recently that I learnt how important presentation is.

Another critical factor of leadership that I learnt was decision-making. I myself is terrible at quickly making decisions. I end up with making good decisions, but it takes an extremely long time for me to decide something. But often, during group projects, there are times where one has to quickly make decisions when both choices are appealing. I learnt that the key to decision-making is accepting that there is no such thing as a “good choice” when both options seem good. Instead, it is better to rely on a coin flip and decide quickly. But there might be disadvantages of making that choice. (and that is probably why you were hesitating between the two choices) Then, use the saved time to think about how you will compensate for those disadvantages and losses.

One thing that I should work on is communication. One time, when I asked our project’s communication manager to write a whole-school email for me, she accidentally sent it to the whole school before showing it to me. I am not blaming anyone, but this is an instance of ineffective communication. Also, I often have so many things to tell the project members that I blurt all of them out, but the members ask me back “so, what are we supposed to do?” Especially since English is our second language, and we communicate in English during school projects, it is important that we communicate in a concise and resourceful way. I believe organizing what I have to say before speaking to the members or writing the information down somewhere would help one to become a better leader.

But above all, I believe maintaining good relationships with followers is the most important, but simultaneously the most difficult, aspect of an effective leader. In most of the teams that I lead, the members were very helpful and cooperative. But occasionally there is one member that causes trouble by being overly pessimistic and let the team down or be overly bossy and try to challenge the leader. Although the best way to deal with these people would be kicking them out, it is also a leader’s role to assimilate these people into the group. Honestly, I do not know a perfect antidote to change these people. If anyone knows how, I would really appreciate it if they could tell me. But some methods that had proven effective to me were directly telling them to stop, separating them from others, or the reverse—giving them an important role and praising them. I learnt that these strategies work differently for people, based on how much the person cares about what others think of him or her. If the person does care about what others think of him or her, directly telling them to stop proved more effective. These people, according to what I saw, cause such trouble because they believe it is an good strategy to assert their dominance or gain attention. When telling those overly aggressive or pessimistic people to stop, it was important to tell the person that it isn’t only me, but also other members that want him or her to change. If they respond by showing more hostility, then you could give them something else to do, especially something that physically separate from the other team members.

Still, there are people who these strategies do not work, such as those who mostly give little care about what others think of them (I am not saying that this is bad). Also, separating one from the others wouldn’t always be a good idea, since it isn’t particularly the best way to deal with others. To these people, I learnt that an effective solution is rather to tell them that you especially trust them, and give a special task or position. For instance, during the first three sessions of Penguin Village as a co-curricular activity, one member was very pessimistic about everything I said, and this negatively affected our teamwork. She did not try to do so on purpose, but she clearly wasn’t a good influence on the team. I couldn’t tell her to stop being so negative, because she evidently wasn’t’ being so on purpose. Instead, I told her in private that I thought she had great insight. I also told her that her advice was very helpful, but I wanted to talk about them 1:1 because that would allow me to discuss her comments more deeply. So I asked her if she could make her comments in private instead of in public. Surprisingly, this strategy worked exceptionally well, and it caused less trouble throughout the term.

Nonetheless, there are more areas for me to improve upon, such as human connections and communication. When a member genuinely tries his or her best to produce work, but the quality is unsatisfactory in my standards, I do not know how to comment on it. Also, I am good at planning things and foresees things well, but I am not good at choosing members or people that will be in certain positions. Often the people that I believe to be lazy and uncollaborative prove to be the best partners, while those who I had high expectations turn out to be subversive and irresponsible. Although my judgement on people has improved than last year, I still believe I have a long way to go.


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