Climbing the Leadership Ladder: One Step at a Time

Climbing the Leadership Ladder: One Step at a Time

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.

Some people naturally gravitate to leadership roles, while others grow into successful leaders by believing in themselves, overcoming their fears, and expanding their connections. I believe that I am carving my way to become a successful leader: I am climbing the leadership ladder one step at a time.

The first step on the leadership ladder is to believe in yourself and to believe that you can be an effective leader. Never tell yourself that you are bad at something before giving it a try. You might fail the first time, but if you are persistent enough, you will achieve your goal. Believing that you are a leader is an essential first step towards becoming one.

The second step on the leadership ladder is to conquer your fears and give yourself a chance to be what you want. You will not be the President of your favorite student organization if you do not run for the position in the first place. You will not be able to deliver a proper speech in front of a crowd if you do not try it. And the list goes on. Getting out of my comfort zone helped me overcome my fears, like overcoming my fear of public speaking, and encouraged me to try things I have never imagined myself doing. Was my first speech perfect? No, but I am sure that I learned from my mistakes, and I believe that I am a better public speaker as a result. With time, you will improve at doing things you were once afraid to do, and you just may grow to like them.

The third step towards leadership is developing and fostering your relationships and connections. Your connections will not only support and motivate you, but they will serve as a reference for you when needed. As a leader, you will have to make major decisions when faced with certain issues. Seeing these issues from only your perspective, without consulting others to gain a broader perspective, will limit your sight and may facilitate a weak decision-making process. Be participative: value the input of others, but at the end make the final decision and be responsible for its implications.

Although this is the step I am currently at, the ladder does not end here. I am sure that I still have many steps to climb to be a better and more effective leader. Always remember that it starts with the first step, and believe in yourself. Along your way up, never forget to lend a hand to those who have the potential and need a push.

Clint Saidy is a doctoral student in Mechanical Engineering and President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA).

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

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Developing Your Leadership Skills

Developing Your Leadership Skills

I often hear students talk about wanting to get more involved on campus and take on leadership roles, but they don’t know where to start. The best way to develop your leadership skills is through experience, but I know it can be challenging to jump into a new situation or take on more responsibility. Developing your leadership skills takes time and self-reflection. While each leadership position I’ve had has been different, I’ve found a few things to be true about each of them: 

  1. Taking an inventory of your current skills is a good way identify your strengths and areas for improvement. Some skills, like communication and goal-setting, are almost universally good leadership skills. I’ve found, though, that the most effective leaders are the ones who capitalize on their existing skillset. Chances are, you underestimate and undervalue the skills or talents you already have (this is especially common among women). To get a baseline measure, I recommend taking an online assessment like the Clifton StrengthsFinder. I did this last semester, and the tailored assessment helped me think about how I can use the skills I have (even those I think might be negative) to my advantage. Once you know where your talents lie, you’re better equipped to align your actions with them.
  1. Being a “leader” is less about a title and more about what you contribute. You don’t have to be the president of a student organization to be a leader. Titles can help define roles, but they shouldn’t limit what you contribute to a group. See where you could use your skillset to meet an unmet need. If you’re already part of an organization, you might volunteer to take the lead on an upcoming project. For example, maybe you have a lot of experience with SurveyMonkey, and your student organization is looking to do some sort of assessment. In this scenario, you could offer to put together a draft of the online survey. If you’re not involved with an organization but would like to be, reach out to one of the student leaders to express your interest. You might explain why you’d like to join the group and what you could offer.
  1. Showing up to meetings is important, but it’s even more important to be fully present. Effective leaders make the most of meetings. Take notes, ask questions, and offer to contribute where you can (see point #2). The more interest you show and responsibility you take on, the more people will look to you as a leader.

To me, being a leader is all about the value you bring to a group or project. What skills do you have that you actively contribute? The skills you use will vary from one setting to another, but understanding what they are and how to use them are important in figuring out who you are as a leader.

Jennifer Mandelbaum is a second-year PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior and Vice President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA). She encourages graduate students to connect with the GSA on Facebook (facebook.com/uscgsa) and Twitter (@USCGSA).

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

What Leadership Means to Me

What Leadership Means to Me

When asked what leadership is, that’s a question that brings about many answers. Leadership to me comes in many forms and can be seen in everyday lives. It could be as simple as listening to your parents, advising your friends, mentoring your siblings or completing house chores as delegated to name a few. These examples of leadership abilities in households sometimes goes unnoticed, but these are our very first steps and exposure to what it means to be a leader.

Leadership to me is the ability to find comfort in the most uncomfortable situations. Being a great listener, having the patience and endurance to understanding people, treating others with respect, following the lead of others, understanding that just because it failed once does not mean it is not worth a second try and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Leadership entails the ability to see both inside and outside the box. I believe that everyone possesses leadership skills, but these skills must be cultivated. Joining various organizations and taking up leadership positions be it on campus, church or in the community helps one to foster these abilities.

Prior to joining my program here at the University of South Carolina, I had held various on campus leadership roles which included being president of organizations, being a founding member of an organization, and being a global ambassador. As someone who likes to be a part of change and process, I found myself running for positions in various organizations as soon as I started my doctoral program. I have discovered that exuding leadership skills is a learned task and with continuous practice I got better at communicating and serving people.

As a student, it is essential that one takes on roles than help refine one’s leadership skills. In our everyday lives, we are placed in situations where our leadership skills are tested and as students these will surely be tested in our respective job fields after graduation. Being able to make the right call at the right time is vital to your growth and development beyond these school walls. Therefore, it is highly imperative that one works day in and day out to not only develop their leadership skills, but to find out which skills works best with their personality.

Anna Cofie is a second-year PhD candidate in Health Services Policy and Management and is the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) secretary of health.

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

The Leaders among Us: My Older Sister

The Leaders among Us: My Older Sister

An impactful leader, to me, is someone who deeply and authentically provides and advocates for the well-being of those they are called to serve.

Respected leaders also live their word and lead by example, not fearing what others might have to say.

Compassionate leaders show empathy for others who face circumstances unbeknownst to them.

One leader which embodies these qualities, and many other qualities that make a good leader, is my older sister.

As I age, and continue to deepen my admiration for the confidence my sister carries, I am often reminded of her strength to overcome, persevere, and conquer.

Growing up, I never really understood the very obvious difference between my sister and me. In fact, being raised with an older sister who lost her hearing long before I was born never really struck me as anything other than normal until I was seven or eight years old. It was then that I started to notice the differences between my family and the families of my friends at the time. While I became more aware of the difference between my sister and the rest of us, I also became more conscious of the courage and bravery she embodied as she rose above the expectations of many. Despite her deafness, she was able to achieve anything she put her mind to. As she continued to trail-blaze ahead in her accomplishments and achievements, I had the privilege of learning from her as a younger sibling. Just a few years after my sister moved out to pursue her undergraduate degree I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, an unexpected and quite devastating diagnosis at the time. The resilience that I was able to exercise during my diagnosis is undoubtedly related to the lessons I learned by watching my sister grow up.

As my sister and I both grow older, I continue to be approached by people who have amazing stories about how they’ve been touched by us overcoming certain setbacks. With each encouraging message I always mention the amazing things I’ve learned from my older sis. Leaders don’t just talk the talk, but they walk the walk as well. Even though we may never know what it’s like to live as the other person, we can say one thing for sure; it is, indeed, our differences which make us more beautiful. If I learned anything from my sister about being a leader, it was that leaders honor and value the differences in the communities which they serve, because they recognize that without diversity there is no richness to the experience of being in a community to begin with.

Matthew Owens is in the master’s of social work program and Graduate Council Representative of the Graduate Student Association (GSA).

 This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

On Becoming a Leader: Maybe you already are

On Becoming a Leader: Maybe you already are

When I think of leadership, I tend to think of world leaders, CEOs, and individuals in high positions of power. However, I know there is much more to being a leader than holding power or authority. To me a leader is someone who is selfless and humble. These are two characteristics, which I believe, define leadership and good leaders, who hold a unique and important role in our society. The great thing about leadership is that it is not exclusive. Anyone can become a leader if they want too. Leadership also comes in many forms, whether it is leading a class dialogue or organizing a community service event that serves others, this is leadership. By taking initiative and making, an effort to bring about change that is meaningful for everyone.

While leadership has its rewards of bringing about change and affecting the world around us it also has its own consequences. When I look at what is happening around me on campus, at home, and in the world, there is clear evidence of leadership that is lacking in selflessness and humbleness, and as a result, it is hurting what we as a society have built. When leaders lead with the mentality of creating change for the benefit of themselves rather than the whole it, causes irreversible effects and most importantly causes distrust among those they are leading and representing. To prevent this, leaders must keep in mind all stakeholders and the change it will bring them. Most importantly though, good leadership must embrace the concept of humility.

Humility, like humbleness, is the freedom from pride or arrogance. This include the ability to reflect on ones actions and admit his or her own faults or mistakes. To admit a mistake can always be a difficult thing to do, but to admit it and take responsibility for it is even harder. Good leaders with good leadership skills will all possess this ability. To me the best leaders are the ones who have failed more than once, admit to their failures, and learn from them. In turn, this builds trust by those who are being led and builds confidence to try again with a new approach.

With regard to being a leader in graduate school, it truly does not take a lot of time, effort, or sanity. In fact, just being in graduate school, at least for me, is being a leader. As a first generation college graduate in my family, my family looks up to me. Especially my nieces and nephews who are getting ready to embark down the same path I had to do five years ago. By being a role model for them and earning my degree, it instills in them faith that they can achieve the same success if not more. For other graduate students, I encourage everyone to take time and reflect on yourself and all you have accomplished so far and realize that you are in a position to create meaningful change by being in graduate school and that your research, teaching, and practice now will make you a better leader in the future.

Alexander (Nick) Vera is a master’s student in library and information science and is the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) secretary of community outreach.

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

Four Steps of Transformational Leadership

Four Steps of Transformational Leadership

What makes a great leader? Some would say a great leader simply can manipulate, incentivize, or inspire the behavior of those that are subordinate to them. While that assessment is a vague generalization, there are several styles of leadership that employ such as a foundational guide. Styles like autocratic or laissez-faire leadership certainly have an appropriate time and place, however, I would argue that the most effective leadership style in virtually any situation is a transformational, or people-oriented, approach. Transformational leaders engage all members of the group to most efficiently reach their common goal. The benefits of this leadership style are plenty and by employing this bottom-up approach you can not only inspire the individual, but you seek to work outside the confines of the current system in hopes of creating a better one.

As students, we can be leaders in several areas of our lives. Whether it be in the classroom, extra-curricular activities, or our jobs we all have the opportunity to utilize or refine our leadership skills. As many of us seek to effect real change, there are several steps we must be familiar with to be an effective transformational leader.

Vision – The most important part of being a transformational leader is having a goal or series of goals that yourself and others are trying to achieve (think mission statements or creeds). By outlining a vision, the transformational leader seeks to acknowledge a baseline and establish a desired ending or maintenance point.

Communication – For a transformational leader, they must not only be able to communicate but do so effectively. Using purposeful language that inspires, eliminates confusion, and clearly specifies expectations will not only provide guidance but instill trust among those under your leadership. Keeping rapport with those that you lead is important as a transformational leader because it engenders respect and cohesion.

Participation – One of the cornerstones of transformational leadership that makes it unique from other styles is the participation of its leaders. Leading by example lets those seeking guidance from you know that you are not only willing to delegate but also actively participate in the success of the group.

Individualization – The fourth component of transformational leadership necessitates individualization. Transformational leaders do not blanket their goals and overlook the unique capabilities of everyone that they lead. Transformational leaders seek to delegate myriad tasks to those that possess the skills to best accomplish them. By empowering those under their leadership, they inspire purpose and a sense of belonging.

Ultimately, being a transformational leader is not just for CEOs but for anyone that seeks to create harmony and inspiration in a group. Religious leaders, educators, activists and more can use these four skills to create a system that capitalizes on individual strengths to overcome pre-existing weaknesses.

Sarah Truesdale is in the master’s of arts in teaching (MAT), social studies education program and works for Leadership South Carolina. She is the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) secretary of GSA affairs.

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

Life Lessons in Leadership: Leading by example

Life Lessons in Leadership: Leading by example

Since I was a young child, I have been a volunteer at Healy Towers, a low income senior housing development in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Many of the residents have physical, mental, and emotional challenges. For some people, this environment could be intimidating, but for me, it is a rewarding experience. Our team provides food, clothing, and personal hygiene items for the residents. Every Christmas, we put together 50 bags of food and basic necessities for the residents.

From the world’s perspective, the residents of Healy Towers are the farthest thing from beautiful, or even worthwhile. To me, they are wonderful friends and encouraging mentors whose positive outlook on the world always amazes me. These people do not have many material possessions, and yet they are grateful for what little they do have. This concept has always captivated and humbled me when I thought I was experiencing a rough week. The residents demonstrate lessons on love, compassion, humility, kindness, and grace over and over again, giving me numerous examples of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Several years ago I discovered the type of leadership the residents at Healy Towers have taught me. Servant leadership—and it has become my preferred perspective on leadership. Servant leadership means serving others by putting their needs ahead of your own.

There are five easy take-away qualities that can be applied to our lives:

  1. Step outside of your comfort zone

  2. Focus on the needs of others

  3. Follow the “Golden Rule”

  4. Admit your mistakes and apologize when you are wrong

  5. Acknowledge the contributions of others

These qualities seem simple enough, but make a big impact when applied to everyday life.

Just like my friends at Healy Towers have taught me, being kind and doing the right thing is not always easy when faced with dilemmas in life. Sometimes you win, but at other times, you have to search for the elusive silver lining. I have discovered that finding the silver lining along the way can be the biggest reward. Bigger than the original prize I had my heart set on.

My mentors at Healy Towers have taught me valuable lessons about life without saying a word. They have taught me not to make snapshot judgments about people because most people cannot be summed up in a single glance. I need to get to know the person first. I have also learned that outward appearances rarely tell the real story of who a person is and what is happening in his/her life.

I am fortunate for having these experiences because they have taught me to view the world and the people in it with a different perspective. As a Healy Towers volunteer, I often thought I was helping to make their lives better. Instead, it is quite the opposite. They are the ones continuing to challenge me to be a better person.

Rachel Lunsford is in the Master’s of International Business program and is the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) Secretary of Alumni Relations.

This blog is part of a series of blogs on leadership written by graduate students during Carolina Leadership Week 2018.

Questions? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.