“Be a leader, not a follower” is a phrase that’s tossed around a lot, but it’s hard to know how to put that into action. Whenever I think of leadership, my mind goes back to a class I took in middle school where we read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens
by Stephen R. Covey.
We had an entire chant with hand motions… habit one: be proactive… habit two: begin with the end in mind… all the way down to seven. I think that this is still ingrained into me, this mantra, and it still influences how I think of leadership.
Being a leader
starts with developing core qualities. It is not simply being in a position of authority but making sure you have a strong foundation to be an example for others. With the foundation of Covey’s book, here are some important steps to develop your effective leadership skills
1. Develop a personal mission statement.
This ties into the habit of “Begin with the End in Mind”. A mission statement is essentially a compass to guide you through life. In your mission statement, you will detail a purpose and intentions to fulfill it, whether this purpose is academic, career-oriented, or personal.
Ask yourself the question: where do I want to be in five years? What about ten years?
Then, outline the steps you need to take to get there. This one is a bit difficult when we are still in a stage of trying to determine what we want for our lives. So, being flexible is also important.
2. Follow through with realistic goals.
From grade school to college, I’ve had teachers who made us write out SMART goals. It’s a really good baseline for setting achievable goals
that will encourage your growth and help you stay in line with your mission statement.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. So, say you are aiming to get into medical school. It would be logical that you get involved with on-campus organizations, and take time in your schedule for internships
You should also know the required courses and GPA so you can make goals to maintain your grades in these courses each semester. Whether it relates to your future career or personal growth, setting specific goals lays the groundwork to assess whether you are on track.
3. Recognize and prioritize what matters most.
Sometimes, you can’t do everything. Actually, most of the time, you can’t do everything. So, prioritizing the things that matter will help ease your mind.
Being a leader often requires making sacrifices and having to decide between one priority and another. Overloading yourself will only drain your mental health
and give you less time to put effort into your work.
4. Examine your reactions and habits.
This ties into the habit of “Be Proactive”. There is an important distinction between being proactive and reactive.
If you start to notice yourself putting the blame on other people or circumstances rather than examining yourself, it might be time to reassess. Taking responsibility for your life and focusing on things that are in your control are vital to developing a lifestyle that models leadership.
5. Listen to others.
Many people have heard the phrase “you have one mouth and two ears for a reason” and as cliche as that is, it’s really reflective of this habit: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”. In a polarized society, it is the norm to fight to be heard, to make judgements and develop counterarguments.
A good leader, however, takes a pause. If you make an attempt to understand others before trying to make your opinions known, you gain their respect
and also are able to better lead them if you are in an authority position.
6. Look for role models.
Whether these are family members or influential people you aspire to be like, having a model will help you to zero in on qualities that are valuable to you. Having a good mentor who has been through similar life stages can make a difference when you have to make important decisions about the future. As you get older, you may find others looking to you in the same way, and you can fulfill that mentor role
7. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
As an introvert, I can definitely speak on this. I was never the first to jump at an opportunity to speak in public or apply for positions where people would be looking to me for guidance. But, I pushed myself in high school
to step into the roles of Copy Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and literary magazine respectively.
And that was a huge leap. From this experience, I can say that it’s so important to stretch yourself and to recognize that you are capable of more than what lies in your comfort zone.
8. Get involved on campus.
One of the most important ways to step into leadership positions is simply involvement. Whether you are in high school or college, there are numerous organizations, student groups, and clubs
From there, stretch yourself to apply for positions. Colleges and employers who glance through resumes want to see that involvement. It also helps with getting letters of recommendation, but on top of that, there is a level of personal fulfillment that comes from having a role where you are an active participant in something.
These are not just milestones to check off but a process of constant assessing and reassessing of self. No one is going to be completely perfect in every area, and if you want a more detailed look at the seven habits, check out Covey’s website
Many of these skills simply come with time. I know that I am still developing them myself. However, a huge part of this is being conscious of how the decisions we are making now can impact the blueprint of our lives in a positive way. Having a strong core allows us to stretch out and be a solid role model, providing direction and confidence that will go a long way.