The power of thoughts
The first major revelation for me was understanding how influential the perception of a problem is. Small changes in viewpoint and perspective can shape how we behave and react to a situation. This is incredibly important as all leadership must start with good self-leadership. How you react and behave with respect to a circumstance can have a large impact not only on yourself but also on those around you.
I had a hard winter of being often sick, which led to some social and intellectual isolation. My levels of assertiveness were reduced, which resulted in a downward spiral – the less assertive I was, the less self-worth I felt and the less I felt the right to be assertive.
My change in thinking and therefore behaviour to escape this spiral happened very suddenly while on holiday. After about five days away it began to bug me that people around me kept on addressing my partner and not me. I reflected upon this and overnight I changed my thinking and therefore my behaviour. I made a conscious decision to be more assertive and, almost like magic, I immediately noticed people reacted very differently to me, leading to greater personal confidence.
While the above example was a rapid change, usually these sorts of changes take a long time. Apparent sudden changes actually occur because we think about them for a long time. Before I took action on this issue, I had been dedicating some time most days to meditating and teaching myself to observe my emotions and thoughts without getting involved in them. By observing your thoughts and emotions, you can objectively assess them and even change how you think of them.
Modelling the way and leading by example
Another leadership lesson I tried to really take on board this year was the idea of modelling the way (i.e. leading by example). I supervised over 50 volunteers over six months who helped me with my gruelling PhD fieldwork. I also supervised a field assistant who was more qualified than me. I tried to focus on modelling the way as much as possible to get all team members to work well together and get the sometimes tedious and backbreaking tasks done. Even though I was often tired, stressed and frustrated, I tried my hardest to be positive and lead the team effectively. I showed enthusiasm, and demonstrated and participated in all tasks. By being inclusive and modelling the way I found that everyone worked efficiently together and generally had a good time.
Saying thank you and celebrating
During fieldwork I also focused on the leadership idea of encouraging the heart. For example, on the last evening of fieldwork before Christmas, we had a little celebratory dinner while out in the field and I gave everyone small presents as thanks. I also hosted a BBQ at the end of the field season for all the volunteers to say thank you and celebrate their hard work. These small actions really improved the moral and effectiveness of my team and made people feel like that they were contributing to a common goal.
The major lesson I have gotten out of this year is to question and examine your thinking, be a positive role model and always express gratitude. Changes in thinking can be hard, but once I overcame that barrier, the changes where noticed by everyone around me. These small strategies, I hope, can be of benefit to others going through similar issues.