Learning the personal side of leadership

By Sydney Nolan on March 04, 2014
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I thought I knew what leadership was in high school. I held a bunch of leadership positions in almost every organization I was involved with by the time I was a senior, participated in extensive leadership training seminars and workshops almost every year since eighth grade, and was well-liked and well-respected by my classmates, teachers, and family alike. This to me seemed to fit very well within the parameters of leadership and what it meant to lead, whether it was at home, school, work, or another scenario.

This year has shown me, though, that I only had a partial understanding of what it meant to truly lead. In high school, my experiences showed me what traditional, group-style leadership looked like – how to organize a group of people, share a vision, and work toward completing each step required in ensuring that vision became a reality. This year, I discovered a much more personal component or form of leadership.

How had I done in the transfer process?

Aside from being able to lead others and find structure and order in randomness and chaos, this year showed me that leadership is also about successfully being able to display personal confidence and wrestle with finding the courage to make the best choices for yourself, even if they go against the opinions, conventions, or expectations of others.

This is sort of a complicated contrast to explain, so a couple of examples might help. I started my year in a very traditional leadership position as an orientation leader for new transfer students arriving at Macalester in the fall. Aside from sharpening and further developing all the stereotypical stuff already mentioned that I’d learned through high school experiences, this position also made me question how good of a job I’d done leading myself through the transfer process a year after my own orientation.

Had I made solid choices regarding classes? Was I doing all I could in terms of networking, making contacts, and using the school’s resources? Was I being proactive about building new social relationships, trying new things, and meeting people? All of these things are what I think of as “personal leadership” potential – chances for you to do something that will positively impact your college experience that, for the most part, you and you alone have control over.

Taking charge of your success

Another huge example that jumps out at me is prepping for study abroad. Based on the nature of the process, the forms that needed filling out, and my personal work style, I had to further develop personal leadership skills to make sure I was ready to go. It was my responsibility to lead myself and make sure I got accepted into the program, got my courses approved by the school, successfully applied for a visa, and arranged for housing and travel. In order to have a successful semester abroad, I had to take charge and make good personal decisions to ensure I stayed on track and managed to make it halfway around the world.

In the end, leadership is about more than just communicating clearly or being willing to take responsibility for a group. It’s about trusting personal instincts and having the ability and willingness to follow through and put yourself on the path to success, regardless of where else you might be pushed or pulled.


About the Author

Sydney Nolan

Sydney Nolan

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