Leadership isn’t something that you are born with, nor is it something that you can just pick up in a day. Leadership is something more. It’s different for everyone and resides within us all. Some people may think that leadership is about taking control and always knowing the right answer, but this is not true. Leadership isn’t how others experience you; it is how they experience themselves in your presence.
A couple weeks ago, I went on an ISABC Student Leaders Retreat on Keats Island. We were there with 17 other schools and there were many students. There were three keynote speakers: a national rower, an Emerg vet, and a First Nations awareness spokesperson.
Our first keynote speaker spoke about her life as a rower. She explained to us that to be a good leader, you have to learn to lead from all parts of the boat. Everyone has a role on the boat and every role is crucial. She suggested pushing boundaries and never letting someone tell you who you are. She also said a leader does not necessarily lead from the front. She explained that a leader can be anyone as long as you believe you can lead.
So, what does leadership mean? According to the dictionary, it is ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organization; the state or position of being a leader’. But how do you be a leader? To be able to ‘lead from all parts of the boat’, you need to understand how you lead and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
There are generally 6 types of leaders: commanding, visionary, democratic, affiliative, coaching, and pacesetting. All of these leading styles are effective in different situations. The commanding demands obedience and compliance, and is all about doing things the ‘same’ way. This leading style could be used in scenarios such as an emergency, a war, or a referee in a sport game. A visionary leader has a vision and guides others to reach the goal. Some examples of visionary leaders are Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook). Democratic leaders believe that participation and consensus is the way to achieve a common goal. They reach out to everyone and listen to everyone’s opinions. An affiliative leader is all about emotional bonds. They believe that the people come first. Malala is an example of an affiliative leader. A coaching leader ‘develops people for a future’. They try different out different possibilities and help each other be better. Pacesetting sets high standards and expects everyone to follow through. To expand your leadership qualities, you could try out all of these types of leadership roles.
To be a good leader, you need to hear others and understand where they are coming from. Empathy plays a huge role in the success of a leader. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another. In order to be empathetic you need to be open to hearing other points of view and to listen to what others have to say and what they have personally experienced. Active listening is when you listen not only with your ears but with your feelings and body language. When someone else is speaking, maintain eye contact, have good posture and be present. We learnt that to be present you need to restate, summarize and reflect. Make sure you are clear about what the person is saying and try to explain it in your own words. Try to avoid judgment by asking questions. You could ask probing questions to get a deeper understanding, leading questions so they can tell a story, or open-ended questions to ‘expand the discussion’. Some ‘communication blockers’ include why questions, advising, forcing someone to talk about a specific subject, patronizing, and interrupting. Try to avoid these.
The third keynote speaker spoke about her experiences as a First Nations woman. As an adult, she became truly in sync with her culture. She said that you have to be true to yourself and where you come from. Some of her words really stuck with me. One of the quotes she shared was, ‘Be strong enough to stand alone, be yourself enough to stand apart, but be wise enough to stand together when the time comes’. This is so beautiful. You have to trust yourself to stay strong and stand up for what you believe but you also have to trust in others to come together and hold each other up. In the First Nations culture, there are 7 key values of leadership: truth, love, respect, courage, honesty, humility and wisdom. These are values by which we should try to live every day. She said that ‘when you understand your own truth you get a sense of belonging. Everyone needs to feel like they belong’.
Our three keynote speakers all had a connecting thread: the importance of believing in yourself and not being afraid to take a risk. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Take risks in your life. If you win, you can lead and if you lose, you can guide.”
In conclusion, there are many types of leadership styles. In order to find your own, I suggest experimenting with all of them and being open to trying something new. We all learn through experiences and experiences as strong leaders help us grow.
By Anisa Mansour