This week my 16-year-old daughter, Natalie, completed the 11th grade. She is busily working on college scholarship applications because she has her sights set on the University of Notre Dame. Following is an essay she wrote for the B. Davis Scholarship regarding what she views as the 3 most important characteristics of a leader. Let’s learn what is important to our future leader:
Views on Leadership
Working in groups is a constant activity in my life: I live with my mom and four sisters at home, and I work with people at school and in theatre. I have been under the instruction of fantastic leaders as well as not-so great ones; I have even had a few leadership opportunities of my own. My observations and experiences have helped shape what I believe are the three most important characteristics of a leader: communication, respect, and passion.
Communication is the primary responsibility of a leader. In order to reach success, every member on a team must be on the same page. A clear purpose or goal and simple instructions are ways to center a team’s focus. First, the leader must spend time thinking about what needs to be accomplished then list and prioritize the actions needed to reach accomplishment. Following brainstorming and planning comes assigning and explaining; the leader presents his or her plan to the team and gives each member a role with instructions. Then, the leader supervises and helps the team meet the goal by further explaining instructions so members understand what needs to be done, working alongside members if necessary, and checking in frequently to witness team progress. My choreographer/dance teacher is someone who has provided me this example of great communication; when there is a show to be done, she creates the dances, prioritizes them by the time needed to teach and clean, and schedules rehearsals. The rehearsal schedule is given out in several different ways - verbal, internet, and paper - and she also explains to each of us our role and what is expected. This skill takes a great deal of trial and error as a good leader consistently finds better ways to direct their team. A good way this skill is developed is having a thinking partner: someone that can feed ideas, motivate, and help create clearer instructions. Whenever I am about to send an important message, my mom acts as my thinking partner to make sure I communicate clearly.
When a leader communicates with respect, they can be more confident that their instructions will be completely understood. Everyone has grown up hearing this lesson, and it is forever rooted in our souls: treat others the way you want to be treated. Humans want and deserve respect, and it is a general virtue that everyone should have. Teams usually are inefficient and unmotivated when their leader is disrespectful. Leaders should not hoard or pridefully use their power but rather divvy it out and create opportunities for colleagues to lead and work to higher skill levels. How else did the leader end up in their current position? It is more than likely because their leader was kind and thoughtful and gave them a chance. Leaders should get to know their colleagues on a personal level. Mutual understanding between the leader and team members regarding their individual duties and life activities is an important aspect of respect. To best develop this quality of respect, the exercise of putting oneself in another person’s shoes will allow the leader to see what their team members experience and can best communicate and work with them. I am in a performing arts program that has multiple instructors with one instructor considered the head. The head of the program is technically in charge of everything, however, this individual does a poor job of allowing the other instructors to make decisions and take charge of some aspects of the program which highlights a lack of respect to those instructors as well as the students working with them. It is unfortunate that pride can cause people in leadership positions to behave disrespectfully; however, it provides a great example of what not to do. Respect is developed in every choice an individual makes, and the best teams are run by a respectful leader.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is passion. The best leaders are usually developed by their passion; for example, I tend to be a natural leader in theatre because I care so much about a production and how it looks and runs. Team members are encouraged by the devotion of their leader to the project and feel the need to get on their level, hence, a team motivated to get work done. Passion is contagious, and it is more fun to work when one is inspired. To lead a team with fervor, a leader should find something about the project that is super important to them and use that aspect to fuel their work. Tracing back to the skill of communication, the leader should explain their passion to the team and encourage them to find their own. I was cast as the star in a dance piece that depicted my choreographer/director’s life. She was so passionate about what she created and wanted to make sure her vision was executed perfectly. Many of my rehearsals were spent conversing with her about who my character was, what type of movement she wanted, and the expressions she wanted to see. The piece ended up being absolutely amazing, and that is because my director’s passion inspired us cast members to do our very best. A team bonded together by passion and determination is, without a doubt, the vehicle that drives to success.
Group projects will be a constant activity in our lives, and it is important to recognize what skills provide success whether you are the leader or being led. These three characteristics - communication, respect, and passion - are most effective when they are combined. Without respect, communication will not be accepted well among team members. Without passion, team members might find it difficult to respect their leader’s vision if they feel they are working in vain. Without communication, team members lose any respect and/or passion they might have for a project. All three qualities are things that are continuously developed and improved. Personally, I will strive to continue to learn from the leaders I follow and better myself in these skills as I earn leadership positions of my own.
May 24, 2019
A great reminder to all of us that a younger generation is watching and learning from our leadership. How will you communicate your passion with respect to your team today?