At the age of 16, I was discouraged with the focus of many of my peers and in somewhat of a slump. As a solution, I decided to set my focus on planning a Russian School graduation ball. I did not realize that this would be one of the most formative experiences of my youth. A group of eleven Russian School graduates embarked on this project with me. Together, we planned a ball for 200 attendees, prepared talents to perform and refined a choreographed Waltz which was (almost) perfection. (Okay, maybe not perfection; we were 16 after all.)
To fundraise for this daunting project we needed to establish and create: community dances, an espresso stand, baked goods and hand crafted jewelry. As the assigned leader for this task, I was thrilled to be in charge. In my teenage mind, this unfortunately meant that now I have control over 11 peers and can exercise it to my heart’s content.
There is a danger in taking on a leadership role without the proper humility. My group was creating a graduation for themselves, not me. No one wants a leader, boss, project manager or director who is taking advantage of their group. They want a parental figure that they are comfortable enough to seek advice from, but yearning to impress.
Here are some tips that I learned through this leadership position:
1. Do not put the blame on anyone (yourself or others.) If you put it on yourself, you will feel guilty and your group will feel like they can blame you as well. Blaming someone else can be problematic because it may just be your perception. Address the problem as a separate entity and keep things objective.
2. Never single a group member out. This may sound like the first point, but it differs because this refers to singling a group member out in general (blame or praise, good or bad). If someone makes a mistake or does something well, I found it is more productive to approach this privately. Doing this keeps a strong personal connection with each group member, making each individual feel important and comfortable.
3. You’re not the only leader. Being in a position of authority, it may be tempting to think that all the weight is on your shoulders. At the same time, it can trick you into feeling that you are entitled to the authority. Yet, the group that you are in charge of is leading you. This is true in any group setting. Without the other people, you would be leading yourself. With community, you are strengthened – so thank your group members.
4. Be a calm optimist. Another mistake that I made was a façade of positivity: everything was cheery, blissful and the event would be perfect. While it is important to have hope, it is important to see clearly and calmly what the outcome could be. By doing this, you can address any outstanding issues.
5. Instill an entrepreneurial spirit in your group. You can assign your group various, tedious, menial tasks and take all the glory. However, this will not create a beautiful finished project. What is important is to instill hope and an image of the grandeur that the group is working towards. This keeps the group going- hope, not domination.
There are many methods to being a successful leader and it is important to keep in mind that each situation can be very individual. However, I have found these lessons to be helpful in many areas of my life. What I would like to instill more than anything: every single person leads and inspires in a different way, but it requires effort and initiative to cultivate this quality.