Leadership can be found in every part of one’s life. No matter if it is in the workplace, as a student in group projects, or when trying to plan a trip with your friends, you have a chance to be a leader every day. Nothing made this clearer to me than being a student in the Global 3 program at UVA. Although it has only been a few months for our cohort studying here, this program has put me in situations I have never experienced before. This has forced me and many others to take on the responsibilities and experience the opportunities that come with being a leader.
Being a good leader is never easy. In fact, one of the most difficult things one can do is bring together different people and lead them toward a common vision. This especially holds true for such a diverse group of people like those in the Global 3 Program. We are students from five different continents, 17 different countries, speaking 23 different languages. This makes for an incredibly diverse set of cultures, working styles, and personalities. As you can imagine, leading in such an environment is very challenging sometimes. But as much as it is challenging, it is also very much rewarding when things go the way you imagined.
Organizing our international dinner, managing many different projects and assignments, and planning multiple trips were some of the most fun opportunities I had during my first two months of being able to prove myself as a leader in this cohort. Obviously, these opportunities have been very different in terms of context, size, difficulty, and necessary leadership style. But all of these have taught me what it means to lead an international team.
No matter what challenge you need to tackle with a team, the leader has to step up and take charge of the situation. This leader needs to understand the situation, the team, and the challenges that could arise within those. This, paired with the leader’s confidence of assuming the control of the situation, will lead to trust for the leader from the other team members.
Having a trusted leader is the single most important step for the leader and the team to succeed in solving their problem. The process of selecting a leader works very different for every team you will ever work with. It is a very dynamic process and can range from non-spoken agreements to a vote. Therefore, forcing your way into the leadership position will never work, as your team will not have the trust in you to lead them, and the team will not work towards a collective goal.
In our strategic leadership class with Professor Paul Seaborn from UVA, we learned that the most important thing for a leader is keeping an open mind and to be mindful of the culture and personality traits of the people you want to lead. Trying to get a team on the same page and encouraging them to work towards a common vision are difficult challenges. It is about being able to see everything your team has in common and what makes all of your team members different.
Most leaders could better be described as managers. They assign tasks to their team and see them through until they are done. A leader does so much more. They actually involve team members in the decisions they make, are open to feedback, and make sure everyone is satisfied with the way work gets done. For planning a trip, this could be as simple as putting together an itinerary everybody is happy with or as difficult as managing hundreds of people to finish a project at your future workplace. And we all know how difficult planning a trip with friends can get. For me, this means being a leader is one of the most challenging things I am doing, and it only becomes easier with experience. Therefore, I believe being in this program is such an awesome experience. Not only do you get to live and work together with such a diverse and awesome group of people, but both the academic side and personal side of the program force you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to get some valuable international leadership experiences.
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