Leadership: A principle

I’m learning that a big part of being a leader is handing over well. Some people call it having a “generational mindset” – remaining conscious of future generations of leaders while you carry out your term.

In my life I’ve handed over several leadership roles. The first one I handed over miserably was Serleier – leader of the small singing group of our residence. I co-led it in 2007, and it was an exciting year for the ser. But two of us three leaders skipped 2008 to focus on our HK responsibilities. After throwing all our enthusiasm into the mix and developing lots of expertise in 2007, we basically deserted the group and watched to see how they would do.

That is an ugly attitude, even if we thought we were doing it for the sake of being good HKs. The result was that Huis ten Bosch Ser 2008 came out sounding good, but they struggled more as a group than we did. They had to re-invent the wheel in a number of ways.

In 2009 we both came back, determined to hand over properly at the end of the year.

In order to raise up leaders, we gave certain first years / juniors more responsibility. They stepped up to the plate really well. Sometimes when you do this people disappoint you and then it takes character from your side to handle the situation… but I think that’s worth it for your own growth as a leader too. In the end, at student level, it’s not only about the performance of your group. It is really important for us to gain experience and be empowered to be more effective people in the future.

We also wrote a proper Ser report, making sure that each leader writes on her field of expertise – me doing arrangement; Iris doing clothing etc. Nicole, who continued on as leader, then compiled it and distributed it when the leaders for 2010 started their planning.

Iris also placed a lot of emphasis on encouraging the strengths of the individual members. I wrote a note to one of the first years, expressing my admiration for her as person and expressing my hope that she would consider being Ser leader in the future. (This may sound like manipulation but it was really sincere. I’m just glad Iris gave us the note-writing opportunity or I might have been too shy!) She is now a Ser leader and mentioned the other day how much this meant to her.

Lastly, we took care to demonstrate that we were committed to Ser and believed in it. This was difficult, because we also had conflicts of interests with other activities. But we tried to make the best of it.

One of our mistakes was pushing the group too hard. They started feeling they needed to defend their vocal chords or we’d totally strain them. They also started demanding rest. This was a tough lesson to learn because we lost some morale in the process.

I’ve also handed over HK and cell leader, with varying success. I’m learning to communicate regularly whatever principles I’m applying, and encouraging my groups to think beyond me – to analyse what we’re doing and think about how they’d do it better. After all, often in the past it was my serious thinking about the leadership before me that made me willing and able to volunteer for their position.

I also invite them to discuss it with me. This challenges me to be humble about my failures, but it also opens up space for the group to express their excitement at what we’re doing, which can be pretty good for all of our morale.

Lastly, I try to restrain myself in terms of the “fireworks” that happen in my portfolio. This might sound silly: don’t I want to make the greatest difference I possibly can in my limited time in this position? I do. But I also have to realise that if my pattern is unsustainable, it won’t be sustained. For the long-term good of the group, therefore, I sometimes compromise big progress for the sake of “building correctly”. If I encounter something urgent, of course that requires a burst of resources, energy etc.

This is particularly important to me at the moment because I have little academic pressure on me so I can afford to take over a lot of the work I currently delegate. I might even do some of it better than members of the group who are still new at this. However, next year’s leader might have far less time. Then, a committed group will have to do most of the work. If we develop culture and structures that make delegation work, the good work we do this year can be sustained over a longer term.

(I have to give credit to a great leader in my life, Marion Griffiths, for getting me thinking about this topic.)

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2 responses to “Leadership: A principle

  1. Especially in student leadership – which always lacks continuity – it is important to hand over not only your experience through a report, but also the energy and impetus to specific people who can continue with the strive/dream/vision you have shared with them.

    It has been a great pleasure for me to see some of the first years of 2004 become seniors and lead projects far beyond what I imagined, maintaining the impetus and continuing the critical debate; striving for improvement and excellence.

    In certain cases, however, it has also been a great disappointment to see student leaders reverting back to “old” ways, and losing the momentum that was built up over years.

    I therefore urge you to always try and invest in people, for that is the only way to ensure continuity of thought and action. Or at least, that’s what I have learnt.

  2. Cara, you’re amazing :)

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