I learned a lot during this year of the leadership program. The initial leadership courses were undoubtedly a valuable introduction to fundamental concepts and tools, but it was mostly through subsequent experiences and interactions with people that I learned the most. Here are the main lessons that I would like to share with you.
Are leaders born or made?
Before starting this leadership program, I was convinced that leaders are born and characterized by particular traits of character that I don’t necessarily share. I therefore wondered about the relevance of my participation in the program, feeling like an imposter among a group of amazing people. However, during the training my viewpoint shifted. If some people are indeed born leaders, others are made (please have a look at this interesting study by Gentry et al., 2012). Inherent traits are without a doubt a precious asset, but training, and above all experience can also bring about the emergence of a leader.
Self-awareness is essential to develop true self-confidence
Acknowledging and accepting who you really are, with your strengths and your weaknesses, are critical first steps in the process of becoming a leader. Before leading others you have to become your own leader. Knowing your weaknesses will encourage you to address them; acknowledging your strengths will allow you to build upon them, and continuous improvement will naturally develop your self-confidence. This is coming from someone who has struggled her entire life with self-confidence (merely because of a distorted vision of it), so trust me!
Importance of shared values
The importance of knowing your own values and working in an organisation to perform activities that align with these values was mentioned at several occasions during the leadership courses. This sounded like an evidence to me, but it was during my last professional experience that I discovered how critical this is. Despite sharing very important values with my employing organisation, such as biodiversity conservation and environmental protection, I felt something important was missing for me: scientific research. My employing organization respected this value and used results from scientific research to support decisions on a daily basis, but what I felt was really missing was the possibility for me to perform my own research. Research has been my entire life. I thought that I could adapt to the world of administration if it was for the good cause, but instead I just felt frustrated, not at peace with myself and ended up resigning. I could not compromise on what I am really passionate about and makes me feel ‘in the flow’.
It was mentioned during the course that when a leader creates his team he has to make sure he has ‘the right people’ on the bus. I would like to add that, as a future leader, you first have to make sure you are ‘on the right bus’. You won’t be credible as a leader if you are on the ‘wrong’ bus!
Leadership is almost always a team effort and trust is the main ingredient
Unless you are a charismatic leader who is able to gather the crowds, you will generally experience leadership as a team effort. It is therefore extremely important to have the right people on your team, to make sure everybody shares the same vision and ensure that each team member is aware of her/his unique role on the team in order to achieve the overall goal. What differentiates a leader from a manager is then the ability to delegate and trust people enough to let them reach the goal their way.
‘A team is not a group of people that works together. A team is a group of people that trusts each other’
Before ending I would like to share with you a quote that in my opinion expresses the essence of leadership:
‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I hope you all get lost in the wonder of the unknown path!