It is funny to me that I was invited to write a blog on leadership. When I was applying to undergrad, I asked my English teacher to write a recommendation letter for me. I found a copy of the letter a few years later; and, to my surprise, the recommendation was not a good one! In the letter, she essentially stated that I was not a leader, but that it was ok because society needs people that can hang back and take directions. I am telling this story to say that I have not always been considered a leader. My English teacher did not see the potential in me, but she was wrong. I took her letter as a personal mission to prove that I was capable of being a leader. With practice, increasing my confidence, ambition, and patience, I improved me leadership skills. In college, I held a leadership position in every organization that I joined. My proudest moment was when I was voted to be President of the Kennesaw Activities Board – the organization with the largest budget on campus. Holding leadership positions has carried over into graduate school. As a Masters student, I was the Exercise Science Masters Student Representative for the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. Currently I am the Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association, a member of the Advisory Council on Professional Development for Graduate Students, and a Zumba instructor with USC Group Fitness.
With each leadership position that I have held, I have made mistakes that improved my leadership skills. I have learned that being a leader does not mean being perfect; but, it does mean trying your best because other people are looking to you as an example and for guidance. Leadership comes with a responsibility to keep an open mind and to treat others with respect. To be a leader means you are representing your department, organization, committee, etc. as well as yourself. Of all the things I have learned about being I leader, I think the most important lesson is that all leaders are learning along the way. To be a leader means you must have patience with yourself. Trust yourself to develop your leadership skills and have confidence in yourself. If you do not have confidence in yourself, no one else will.
The best advice I can give to graduate students looking to gain leadership experience is be proactive. There are opportunities all around you! Sometimes all you have to do is respond to an email or show interest. To enhance my leadership skills, I have become involved in organizations inside and outside of the university. Volunteering is key! Usually leadership experience involves unpaid work. However, people will begin to recognize your work ethic and it will open the door to more leadership opportunities.
Lauren Reid is a doctoral student in epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. Lauren is Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association and a member of the Advisory Committee on Professional Development for Graduate Students.
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at email@example.com.