My previous work and volunteer experience have trained me in the Servant Leader school of thought. Wherein a great leader is one who has had much experience serving others before earning a leadership role and continues with a heart of servitude even after obtaining a leadership role. In my time with AmeriCorps, I saw examples of my supervisors being Adaptive, Resourceful, Diplomatic, and Collaborative, which have helped shape me into the leader I am today. Currently, I am practicing creating a balance between developing an independent, open-door work environment for my team and making sure to check-in with my team regularly to highlight their efforts and provide guidance if need be.
What traits and attributes make an effective leader?
Adaptive: In the current ever-changing world, a great leader needs to be able to adapt their plan of action to fit the needs of the team and the community in which the organization serves. A great leader should be able to create and maintain a strategy that is malleable yet still efficient for the task at hand.
Collaborative: A great leader should know when to trust their instinct and when to take a step back and share the work. A great leader should have the ability and aptitude to acknowledge when their skillset is not enough to get the job done, and therefore reaches out to their network to discuss developing a collaborative process.
Resourceful: When leading a team or effectively managing funds, a great leader knows how to be inventive. Great leaders know how to effectively use and leverage their various capital to achieve a goal. For example, using one's social capital to generate a donation or sponsorship for a program is immensely useful for the team and stakeholders. Also, being able to utilize the new funds into an impactful project without leaving money on the table shows efficiency, money management, networking capabilities, and good stewardship.
Diplomatic: A leader needs to know how to manifest a climate of collaboration and compromise. By being proactive in developing such an environment in the workplace before any conflicts arise, team members and stakeholders are more comfortable in approaching leadership with their grievances. Alternatively, such an established climate of diplomacy may manifest itself within the team members, which would lessen the need for mediation amongst leadership and subordinates.
What evidence supports these attributes?
Adaptive: Ever since my time with the College Advising Corps ended in 2018, I have still kept in touch with my supervisors, Director Maxie, and Director Cooper. I will always remember how adaptive they both were during our battle with Hurricane Harvey. Both Director Cooper and Director Maxie were extremely proactive in getting contingency plans out to the team and sending out memos that were clear and concise on how to prepare. Not only did the correspondence refer to our wellbeing, but it also explained to the team how the remainder of our work was to be handled and correctly submitted for review and approval. This proactivity and adaptability in the face of a natural disaster increased the team's productivity and morale, thus allowing us as academic advisors to develop a plan of action that best fits our specific institution's needs.
Collaborative: Director Cooper's success in his position was highlighted in his ability to reach out and connect with people. Director Cooper was known for being able to make partnerships and secure donations. Director Cooper understood the value of relationships and networking. By being able to step outside of his plans and ideas and being willing to collaborate and to develop stakeholder relationships with other prominent entities, Director Cooper was better able to assist the team with their needs and their goals. A great deal of the training, supplies, assistance, lodging, and travel that we were able to do en masse as a team was because of the collaborative efforts of Director Cooper and his network.
Resourceful: Director Cooper always knew the value of a dollar. Director Cooper knew what the team needed, how to get it, and how to make his funding work across multiple avenues. However, I will always remember the wise words Director Cooper shared with me about his experience with fundraising. Director Cooper said that fundraising came down to two things: transparency and usage. Director Cooper shared with me that when he is networking for the purposes of fundraising or grant writing, he is always transparent in how the funds are to be used for the organization. However, he does not merely stop at the request. Director Cooper keeps stakeholders on the same page every step of the way. Whenever Director Cooper found himself in a pinch with funding or noticed that there was some extra money in the budget, he would always reach out to the original sponsor and let them know how he plans to utilize the rest of the funds. Director Cooper shared with me that he is often surprised to see that funders are usually supportive of most ideas when you are transparent with how you are using their funds. Sometimes, they will even spread the word about the developments to their network, therefore adding more awareness to the project.
Diplomatic: Director Maxie was one of the most amazing advocates for her team. She was always tough, but fair when it came to her decisions, but Director Maxie continually made sure to share with her subordinates that she was in their corner. I recall when I had some disagreements with the liaison of my assigned location about the limitations of her supervisory style regarding my necessity to reach out to students and meet with them face-to-face. Director Maxie was always willing to listen to my grievances, develop a plan of action, and even hold regular face-to-face meetings with the liaison to arrive at the best diplomatic solution. Director Maxie always had a gift of looking at the situation with an unbiased lens, and she would find the pros and cons in any situation. However, she was always able to reach an amicable solution that would work for both parties and did so with a proper paper trail and correspondence so that it would protect and hold accountable all parties involved.
How does the evidence confirm or challenge my beliefs?
Having done the bulk of my current volunteer and professional work in fields like youth development, ministry, and education, I have derived my leadership attributes from the Servant Leader school of thought. A great leader knows how to serve others to the best of their abilities. A good leader understands the needs of their team and their stakeholders because perhaps at one point, that leader was in a similar position. However, leadership is born out of more than prior experience. A great leader has a different way of thinking about and approaching the situation at hand. It is the combination of that experience and that complex thinking that makes for a great leader. Being able to be resourceful, diplomatic, collaborative, and adaptive is born out of serving others. To be a great leader, one has to be a great servant as well.
What steps am I taking to improve my leadership skills?
One of the biggest obstacles I face in my leadership skills is the ability to manage my team effectively. That is to say that I greatly appreciate the value of creativity, malleability, and independence. However, in my efforts to let my team have various freedoms, I tend to lose the benefit of developing rules and structures until it becomes needed after something has fallen through the cracks. My open-door policy always allows for 24/7 guidance and input, but that leaves me vulnerable to being overworked or further blurring the lines of structure and chain of command. These methods of my leadership style that require practice all stem from a need to practice management. I have made the effort of making sure that I continuously practice having regulations in place for my team so that I can balance having an environment of structure but also creative freedom. Shifting the focus of my servant-leadership toward strongly considering the efficiency of my team in addition to the morale of my team, I will be better able to serve both my team and our stakeholders.
How have these leadership skills manifested in the field?
Beginning in the Fall of 2019, I decided I wanted to see more fruit from the labor of the family-owned businesses in my community. Bryan/College Station, TX, is a growing region due to the popularity of Texas A&M University. However, that means that long-established businesses are collecting valuable real-estate, leaving the family-owned businesses in Bryan/College Station, TX, at a high risk of losing their consumer base. Members of marginalized communities also own many of the family-owned businesses in Bryan/College Station or primarily serve members marginalized communities--immigrants, individuals of color, low-income communities, and at-risk youth. Therefore, I wanted to make sure these businesses and the communities they serve were not forgotten as companies seek to maximize their profits by catering primarily to university students and their families. For me, taking on a project of this magnitude was about more than simply raising awareness for small businesses in my community--this project as about making sure that business-owners had a chance at providing for their families and fighting for their version of The American Dream.
To make this work, I started out recruiting within my social and professional network to achieve a team of around fifteen individuals whos interest aligned with my mission. After developing a team, I assigned roles based on each person's strengths. As the team leader, I was the primary contact and liaison for businesses interested in our marketing campaign. My teammates consisted of those gifted in creating marketing materials, social interaction and word of mouth, logistics, follow-up, as well as statistics and data analysis. From December until the present, our goal is to offer our services to family-owned businesses to increase their consumer base and overall sales by at least 15% per semester.
As the team leader, I understood that managing this team and reaching our goals paled in comparison to making sure our services benefited these families. Although our work was essentially volunteering as third-party ambassadors for these businesses, performing our work poorly could significantly affect the livelihoods of these families. This project, in particular, lit a fire under me to make sure that I was managing my team correctly. I made sure to allow my team to have creative freedom and individual accountability in their developments--but I made an extreme effort to be much more hands-on than I am used to. At first, there were some mistakes and faux pas on my part. At some points, I created habits that I strongly disagree with and therefore began to micro-manage my team. After some time to reflect on my efforts to be more hands-on, I had remembered that these teammates of mine were already friends and colleagues of mine before this project. Therefore I forced myself to relax a little and trust that my teammates would perform to the best of their ability--all I had to do was check-in regularly. By developing a check-in style of management, I was able to effectively balance facilitating an independent work environment in concordance with making sure deadlines were met, and tasks were completed. Through this community service project, I learned the value of "checking-in" with my teammates to make sure their efforts were highlighted, and to provide a helping hand if need be.