Sunday, December 17, 2017

Tips for Better Leadership Skills

Hello, beautiful! In case you haven't guessed yet, leadership is something that's close to my heart, and something I'm passionate about fostering in other women. That's part of the whole reason I blog, after all: to give young women the confidence they need to get straight As, land that internship and look fabulous while they're doing it ;)

As a kid, I used to get called bossy a lot, both by my parents and my teachers. Without realizing it was harmful to me, the adults in my life used to discourage me from being "bossy" by telling the other kids what to do and instead encouraged me to be nice. That was when I learned that what people want out of a little girl is the exact opposite of what they want in their sons: nice, sweet, quiet, respectful. Not everything that I naturally am, and everything I strive to be on a daily basis.

Then I read about the research that Girl Scouts is doing on young women and leadership, and found out that girls get called bossy way more often than boys - no surprise there. Based on their findings, they're now recommending that parents and teachers call young girls leaders, strong-willed or determined instead of bossy or intimidating. Wouldn't that be so awesome, if no girl had to grow up believing she wasn't cut out to lead?

Girl Scouts was the first place I learned to hone my leadership skills, but I didn't stop there. I kept going in college when I went Greek and became a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Our motto as Thetas is "leading women," something that I strive to live by every single day. Most recently, I'm living that out as Boston University Panhellenic's newest VP of Leadership and Chapter Development. So, basically, my whole job is to lead the Greek community and teach other women how to be leaders - talk about a dream come true!

Today, I'm here to share some of the leadership skills that helped me get where I am today, and how I developed them. To me, leadership isn't always a natural-born talent, but something you nurture and develop over time. Even if you don't identify as a leader now, by the end of this post, I hope you'll discover ways that you can become one - and already are one - by reading what I've written here today.

What Is a Leader?

I know, I know: this header sounds like a cheesy Powerpoint slide in a class presentation. But before I get into how you can become a good leader, I wanted to talk about what makes a good leader. The definition of a leader is different for everyone, but here are a couple of the leadership traits I find most important:

  1. Passion. The most important quality in any leader is passion. Without passion, you won't be able to inspire and energize a team to achieve its goals.
  2. Determination. A leader must be able to clearly see her goals, and cannot let anything stand in her way.
  3. Cooperation. That being said, a good leader would never stomp all over her team - she isn't "bossy," after all. Instead, she's all about that teamwork and cooperation.
  4. Lightheartedness. The best leaders I've ever met never take themselves too seriously. Everyone who's inspired and connected with me, from professors to professional mentors, has had a good sense of humor on her shoulders.
  5. Seeing the bigger picture. When you're in charge of a big project, it's easy to get tunnel vision. That's why the best leaders are the ones who can see the bigger picture and constantly keep others on track to succeed. 

How to Become a Better Leader

Now that I've talked a little bit about what leadership means to me, I'm ready to tell you guys all my top secrets for becoming a better leader....well, sort of.

Truth is, there's no shortcut to amazing leadership skills. (Sorry!) Just like anything else in life, you have to put in the work if you want to become a better leader. And the best way to do that is through practice - which brings me to my very first tip! (Not to mention four others...)

1. Step up to lead.

The best way to become a better leader is to, well, lead! If you want to become a great leader, you have to have that experience to help you figure out what your leadership style is and where you can improve. My recommendation? Run for an officer position in your club. Whether it's president of the chess club or chief financial officer of your sorority, sitting in some position - whether big or small - will help you gain confidence as a leader and teach you exactly what it takes to lead.

2. Lead by example. 

Even if you're not a leader in a formal position, you can still be a leader in your own life. This is called "leading by example" - you know, that old cliche your mom used to use to keep you from underage drinking in high school. Well, it has a purpose! When you lead by example, you try to present your best self to the world, and don't do anything you wouldn't want your friends or family to do. For example, if your club has a social media policy, you post fun group photos that include everyone, yet still abide by the club's rules. 

3. List your role models.

Take out a pen and paper! (Yes, RIGHT NOW!) Set a phone timer for two minutes. In those two minutes, I want you to write down as many people as possible who you think of when you think of the word "leader." Here are just a few of the names I came up with when I tried this: 

  • Emma Watson. Ambassador to the U.N., advocate for girls & sex-positive voice in the media. YASSS, girl! 
  • Maya Angelou. Started a racially-inclusive, body-positive poetry revolution and empowered countless women through her words.
  • Michelle Obama. Not only a tireless champion of healthy eating and exercise, but also humanized herself and stayed humble as First Lady in the media and beyond.
  • Oprah. Overcame impossible circumstances to become one of the world's richest self-started women.
  • Taylor Swift. Continues to make fearless art despite endless waves of negativity. One of Time Magazine's Silence Breakers in 2017.
  • Dolly Parton. The first female icon in country music, who became known for her emotional lyrics and outspoken nature.
  • Kate Middleton. Balances life as a mother, wife and actual princess like a literal pro - all while wearing four-inch heels. If that's not leadership, IDK what is.
  • Seth Rogen. One of the most well-known faces in comedy. Uses his fame to raise money for Alzheimer's disease.
  • Joe Kennedy. The Congressperson I am most inspired by at present, and a tireless champion for women and the middle-class.
  • Michelle Wu. Asian-American, woman, lawyer and President of Boston City Council. Talk about shattering glass ceilings!
  • Holly Madison. Dared to break silence around Hugh Hefner's sketchy behavior despite slut-shaming and cruel backlash.

The next time you have a leadership dilemma, I dare you to think about what one of your role models would encourage you to do in the same situation. Looking at your situation from this angle might just change your whole perspective!

4. Find a mentor.

Having role models is nice and all - but sometimes, you need to know a real flesh-and-blood person who you can turn to when you need leadership advice. For me, these people are my mom, my political science professor and my boss in the BU Dance office. My mentor-mentee relationship with these people is usually more informal than formal (I mean, I'm literally my mom's daughter - how informal can you get?), but there's still so much you can learn simply from watching the way a great leader works and thinks.

5. Practice power poses.

In case I haven't told you enough times already, I encourage you to watch Amy Cuddy's TED Talk on the importance of body language. Cuddy basically tells the audience that striking a power pose for a few seconds can completely transform our confidence before an important situation, such as an interview or presentation. So, next time you find yourself in a nervous bind, simply strike your best Wonder Woman pose and see how you feel in 10 seconds! You might just surprise yourself.

What's your best tip for stronger leadership skills? LMK in the comments below or @haleymarieblog on social media!