I probably would not have used the word ‘led’ in that sentence had it not been for the EDG leadership course last year. The course made me realise that my notion of leadership being a top-down control and coordination was wrong and that being a leader was really just about having the right skills to work ‘with’ other people. It made me recognize that I am in fact leading this group, as are all the other members in different capacities and at different times.
Leading this group of very talented, independent and creative people was overwhelming at times. But I learnt a few things over the course of the year. These might not be the quintessential lessons in leadership that we are usually taught, but this was my experience. And the lessons I’ve learnt have helped me keep the group together and push it into a rather impressive teamwork exercise of organising three public events: two inaugural exhibitions showcasing works of members of the group to launch Artefact as a collective, and a workshop in conjunction with the Student Conference on Conservation Science 2015 at University of Queensland focusing on the conservation-art interface.
This one is a keeper. I realised that the minute you acknowledge that ideas do not exist in isolation and only become better when discussed, you start to realise that you cannot own an idea. This is hard to do sometimes because you feel possessive or want to get more credit, but that is an absolute no-go! I realised that the more responsibility I gave to group members in terms of ideas and actions, the more coherently the group worked. In fact, our name, Artefact, and what we wanted to do came out of initial email discussions amongst the members.
You cannot do it alone
And I did not do it alone. Organising the exhibitions and a workshop was a first for me. If I had had to do it on my own, I would have ended up sitting in an empty room, with one friend who I might have bullied into coming along, and some wildlife pictures from past travels to save face. And I have to say I don’t quite buy the ‘if you want to get something done you have to do it yourself’ saying. You definitely have to push people to do things, but you don’t have to do everything yourself. Plus doing everything yourself is hardly an ideal solution.
You have to be a manager to lead
This may seem unappealing, especially given our aspirations to be ‘leaders’. But I realised that to make a group of people work towards a common goal, I myself had to be the clerk, the assistant and the boring-logistics-organisation-person. In fact that was the bulk of my role as a leader for Artefact. Leaders sometimes have to do the boring jobs – everything that no one else wants to do. Without the grunt work, there would not have been a group to lead in the first place.
You have to take the time out to “lead”
It takes time. No two ways about it. I ended up working weekends to get regular email discussions going within the group and for organisation leading up to the events.
You have to show enthusiasm
This is crucial. If you seem disinterested or if the group thinks your priorities lie elsewhere, it will break the spirit of the group. As corny as that might sound, it is true. If you lead, you are responsible for making the group feel involved, encouraged and excited about what they’re doing. That’s your role because people are busy and they will forget why they should care about this particular idea from time to time, even if it’s their own idea.
You have to find encouragement
The first thing I did when I thought of Artefact was to try and find outside validation. I went to my friends to see what they thought about the idea. The fact that these friends were enthusiastic about it gave me the nerve to speak up about the idea to more people and eventually form the group. Another time when I doubted the success of the events we were organising, a friend said, “even if the events don’t turn out well, this project is already a success because it’s made us all meet so many interesting people!”. That has kept me going since.
You need to have someone to complain to.
Be it your sister, partner, a friend or many friends. It is difficult to get through big deadlines and responsibilities without being able to whinge and complain from time to time. But it also goes without saying that we shouldn’t over do this! That would just make leaders no fun to hang out with.
Artefact has been fun and rewarding, especially the product more so than the process. But I wonder if I really led the group in its formation and functioning, or did I just coordinate a group of people well? Maybe this doesn’t actually matter, and both are just different forms of leadership.
More on Artefact:
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/artefactconservation