You may remember from a recent post that near the end of October, I was informed that I was successful in applying for a place on the Inspiring Leaders programme organised by my university’s Volunteering department. I was so excited to receive the official confirmation email that evening coming home from university, because it was a programme which I dearly wanted to get on and learn from. I felt compelled to apply to this unique and rewarding interactive programme as I enjoy participating on campus life, working with others to secure a common goal and giving back to the community. Volunteering and leading have been highlights of my time at Queen’s, and I believe that to volunteer is to serve the community.
A little reminder about the programme: the Inspiring Leaders programme has been developed by Queen’s SU, and is supported by the William J. Clinton Leadership Institute and Careers, Employability and Skills department. The programme seeks to support current student volunteers in positions of leadership and aims to support the selected participants by increasing their understanding of themselves as a leader, to strengthen leadership skills, to enhance their personal development and increase their ability to lead others. Furthermore, the programme aims to demonstrate to the participants how to translate their volunteering and leadership experiences into employability skills and understand how these skills assist in the workplace upon their graduate entry.
I attended the one day intensive training course on the 14th November, and had a marvellous time. Having just submitted my journal entries (which are a requirement to do in order to pass the programme) I wanted to share the day with you with this post.
The day was the perfect mix of seminars, workshops and interactive sessions. This meant that not only were we taught about leadership, the different styles of leadership and to to be a leader, we had ample opportunities to put our knowledge and understanding into practical application. I particularly enjoyed being placed into teams based on the tables we had been assigned to sit in for the day. There was a lovely display of friendship and camaraderie around the whole room for the day, as everyone genuinely wished to be there, and to learn with their peers.
The day-long course was broken down into four main topics of teaching:
- Leadership, What it is and Why it matters,
- How I become a Leader,
- Leading Teams, and
- Leading Others
We had a wonderful opportunity to learn about leadership through holding individual interviews with local leaders in Belfast, from a student activist to a Director, from a Belfast City Councillor and youth worker to a Development Officer with Fighting Words Belfast.
My team was asked to interview the leaders on the topic of what makes a successful/unsuccessful leader, before presenting back to the rest of the group. I really enjoyed hearing their answers, all of which emphasised the need for a leader to be authentic, a life-long learner and resilient. Everyone interviewed reiterated how a successful leader motivates and engages with their team, is professional, leads by example and is genuine. Unsuccessful leaders were those who dictate, who manipulate and coerce their teams. I particularly appreciated the messages of the importance of honesty and openness with your team, as these are values I hold dear. Words from the student activist also resonated: that a successful leader is inclusive and upholds equality and reconciliation of different sides.
The day comprised of workshops and seminars, which required us to work within our table teams, but also work with others. We had to present to our peers, work in teams to provide information such as our experiences working as leaders or being lead by leaders, and what we have come to expect from leaders. These were very informative and interesting sessions, and I thought it was invaluable to hear the experiences of my peers.
There was a session centred on determining our own leadership styles – mine is apparently people-focused, in that I like to ensure all feel comfortable, respected and confident to express their opinions. There was also an exercise ran in conjunction with the QUB Red Cross society, whereby we had to respond to an emergency health crisis ‘on the ground’. Not only was this a fun and stimulating exercise, it was a good character and team building exercise, too.
There was an exercise focusing on motivation: we were asked to consider what motivated us, and could we determine four personal values. I recently came across my four selected personal values as I was researching miscarriages of justices cases, and I am still pleased with my choices.
I enjoyed the session on leading others, as it reinforced that anyone has the potential to be a leader, it is not an exclusive position to be occupied by an elite. Moreover, I feel that leadership starts from within, in that it helps you understand yourself, and I was pleased to see that this was mentioned during this session.
So, I had a wonderful day meeting new people, learning alongside my peers and feeling inspired and motivated to make a difference. What is next? Well, I have completed my journal entries, and logged all my volunteer hours to date this semester for submission. A requirement to pass the programme is to have recorded a minimum of 50 hours; as I am working across three volunteering postions, from activism to charity and student society work, I have managed to record 95.5 hours. (I am definitely hoping to hit 100 before the semester concludes.)
Should you now ask me my views on the programme, and why learning to be an effective leader matters, I would answer that essentially, leadership itself matters.
Leaders are an important element in the group dynamic. Leadership matters as leaders act as a ‘rallying-point’ for innovation and ideas generation within a team structure. This is such because leaders know and understand their team as a collective in terms of potential, and know the team members individually in terms of their specific abilities and skills. The job of a leader therefore is to ensure the unique skills of each member are harnessed for the team, and that the team members can thus realise their potential and develop. Consequentially, team members will want to work, and will want to succeed. Leaders therefore inspire and encourage the team so that work is completed and challenges are overcome.
What I have discovered through personal experience but what was also reiterated during the day-course was the importance of leadership in challenging both the leaders as well as the team members. Leaders will take risks and therefore ensure innovation in the quest to find the best solution or answer to a given problem. Such risk taking allows for ideas to flourish, and as such organisations can grow.
Leadership matters, as an inspiring leader can make others come together to achieve a collective aim. Leadership is important in creating team relations and developing trust.
I am involved in student organisations, student activism and volunteering on campus and consequentially I often find myself taking on a leadership role within team structures. This is because there are occasions when I feel that a designated leader is required to generate discussion, ensure communication and organisation and thus ensure that progress is achieved.
To me, leadership is about service. It is about helping others realise their potential. This belief is something which I act upon, thus I contribute by assuming responsibilities myself but also involving all within the group.
I know that through my volunteering experiences and my own experiences of being a leader, I would not ask others to do something I would not do myself. I feel that it is important as a leader to emphasise that everything undertaken is a team-effort, and for the benefit of all in the team – not for the benefit of the leader. A leader is not one who benefits from the work of the team, but actively works themselves and for the team, and I feel that this is something I can contribute to leadership.
I like to hear from everyone involved in the group, to know and understand their thoughts and opinions. I feel that as a leader, it should a process of democracy and not autocracy. Therefore a strength of mine is to ensure everyone has their voice heard, and feels that their voice is respected.
I do not wish to be a leader for the purposes of a title and careerism. I do not wish to be a leader so that I can sit behind a desk, and tell others what to do and how to do it whilst I do not contribute to the task completion. I want to be a leader, so that I can challenge and encourage, and help others grow. It is thanks to the Inspiring Leaders programme that I feel I may be able to go out, and do just that.
Watch this space.