Leadership Essay

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When I first applied for the Laidlaw scholarship I had what I would have considered at the time to have very little experience with leadership. In hindsight I would still say that I had very little experience but that experience would have come from many different sources.  What experience I had would have been surprisingly practical experience in acting as a leader from positions without authority rather than any theoretical study of the discipline. Before the beginning of my scholarship all of my leadership experience was from two extra curricular programs at my college that resembled debating clubs. The experience here was one where everyone in attendance was doing so voluntarily. While these experiences were very helpful in the development of various communicative skills, the prescriptive nature of these events meant that these opportunities hadn't developed a wide range of leadership skills. One aspect that at the time however I hadn’t realised the ramifications of was the exposure to other people's beliefs being argued and articulated for others to try and understand. This experience I believe has had long running consequences for how I approach leadership tasks that I have come across since then. Seeing how people could respond in such different ways to the same basic issue presented even when in many respects the people in these groups were very similar was quite illuminating. This is ,on the surface, quite apparent but can be seen in one of the main points raised in our cohort's first leadership weekends, DISC profiles. These profiles were introduced to show the idea that different members of a team could respond to different aspects of the project or incentives drastically differently. This I found to be in many ways similar in principle to what I had learnt in my previous experiences. Beyond the change of what I would draw on as leadership experiences between before my application to the scholarship and now once I have neared its completion. I would also say my view of what leadership is has changed. Originally I had quite a myopic view of what leadership would be defined as; something which required power or authority and the utilisation of those to an end. Now I would not say that this original conceptualisation of leadership was wrong as this is most often where examples of leadership and leaders are drawn from but this would be a too shallow definition to me now. Given the nuances and diverse range of situations and dynamics which leadership can be found in, I would much like many authors on the topic, no longer try to provide a global definition of leadership. 

The first major steps of my leadership development took place on the scheme's first leadership weekend where the other scholars and myself went to Hospitalfields. This weekend had the focus of what makes a good leader and the development of some skills and techniques toward that end. This weekend was where DISC profiles were introduced to us which after the reflections encouraged by the scheme lead to the aforementioned change in approach to leadership situations. After this there was a group discussion about what qualities make a leader. This interaction with the other scholars was vital in showing just how limited my previous conceptions of leadership were. This was highlighted by the fact that other scholars came out with different concepts that wouldn’t have crossed my mind like being virtuous or honest. The inclusion of more moralistic considerations in what it means to be a leader or someone undertaking leadership allowed me to see the greater scope of what leadership is. This shift took me from focused on an interpretation of leadership that focused on productivity or utility to one that could include more personal objectives or interactions. While I still would say these aspects are not inherent to all leadership they certainly should be factors in good leadership. Our time at Hospitalfields continued to focus on the themes of good leadership in both its conceptual and practical aspects. To work on the practical aspects we were divided into groups and given tasks to work on including giving speeches, the preparation of talks or strange games where common aspects of communication were limited. Out of these activities I believe two most clearly brought aspects of my strengths and weaknesses as a leader into focus, however one only with much hindsight. The first of these tasks was to design an informational talk about one aspect of Hospitalfields past as a group. Given the groups were randomly assigned and this was the first time many of the scholars had met, this task had been designed to as closely mimic a realistic leadership scenario as possible. The fact that all of the scholars in this task were striving to practice the leadership techniques and ideas that we had been instructed on throughout the weekend made this task a useful tool. It helped in developing the ability to act in a leadership capacity but not from a position of authority or power. This aspect of the task I found particularly interesting as it was working on what at the time was the newer aspects of leadership that hadn't occurred to me before. Practicing the act of putting what up to that point was conceptual aspects of leadership was particularly useful in cementing these ideas to me and seeing different aspects of their strengths or shortcomings. In this context of a group of other individuals all of who are actively attempting to participate with the task for the clearly identified common goal it seemed to me that a lack of positional authority was helpful to the groups progress. As mentioned this task was one of the first times many of the scholars were interacting which also showed to me the importance of communication to a group's success or failure. Discussions of the objects and their ties to the history of the place were clearly vital to the construction of the presentations; however these conversations often wandered into the interests of the scholars as a method to get to know one another. This shows how the communication of the group could both be integral to the progress of the group but also if unchecked or lead to conversations that were not directly progressing the project. This is however not to say that getting to know the other scholars was not productive to the project as it often led to a more cohesive unit, it is my belief that knowing the point where these conversations would detract from the project would be the distinction of a good leader. Continuing the theme of communication as a vital leadership skill was another task we were presented with on the second day of our weekend. This task was simple in its nature. Everyone was given a card and we had to arrange them in order while not being able to say what was on them. Restricting communication in such a simple way caused disarray amongst the group and we were unable to arrange the cards in the correct order within time. Before this task I would have said that communication was an important aspect of leadership but not quite for as many reasons as afterward. Many members of the group became disheartened when progress was not being made and in not being able to see the end goal of the project. The fact a simple failing of communication could ostracise members of the group so quickly gave me reason to consider communication as one of the most important qualities of a good leader. 

Throughout this summer the Laidlaw team at my university have provided a series of what they have called leadership lunches. These have been a series of talks delivered remotely which have covered both leadership concepts and various guest speakers leadership experiences. The aim of these talks beyond informing us about a wider range of leadership tools and concepts was to encourage reflection on the talks and growth from introspection. While many of these talks I have found useful such as the talk delivered by Alex on team roles. Many seemed like the natural extension of previously introduced concepts, for example the team roles could be seen as people reacting differently to attempting the same task. An application of the same underlying concepts of the DISC profiles and my prior experiences. The talk which I found most useful in my developments as a leader has been mentioned previously. A talk on acting as a leader from positions which lack authority or power. While I have mentioned this topic many times throughout this piece up to this point it had not been until this talk that I had truly begun to consider this concept. As you will be able to tell, it has changed my opinion on many events that have taken place long before. This aspect of leadership is one that I have found very useful because it is one which given my youth and status as a student applies most to situations that I find myself in. Being able to frame leadership through this lense has allowed me to find ways to apply the different leadership concepts of the scheme to a much vaster array of situations that I had ever thought possible. The ability to practice these leadership concepts more regularly than I would have been able to if waiting for positions of authority or power have allowed me to grow much more as a leader than I otherwise would have been able. Another talk which I found interesting but has had less of an effect on my leadership was a talk given by a guest speaker on anarchist movements and their responses to leadership. This interplay between the common understanding of what it means to be a leader and what academics on the topic define leadership with a philosophy which commonly espouses a lack of need for leadership I have found helpful in ordering my thoughts on the topic. 

During this summer I have undergone a leadership in action project with the charity Bite Back 2030. This project was oriented around beginning the ground works to establish a youth space that would provide an alternative social atmosphere without the requirement for youths to spend money or eat unhealthy food to use the space. This space would be called a youth pod and the project looked at developing such a youth pod in three different regions of the UK. As a result Bite Back 2030 had three scholars undertaking summer work on this project. Given that Bite Back 2030 are a youth focus and community lead charity the projects regions were divided amongst the scholars to allow for each region to be specialised as needed. Therefore the project team of us scholars were acting in parallel with one another over these different regions. None of us participating in the project had specialist knowledge in the realm of childhood obesity and so there was not particularly a default leader amongst us. So the project was another useful opportunity to act as a leader without positional authority. Throughout the project the other scholars and I met regularly both with and without the supervision of Bite Back 2030. While throughout the project there was lots of solitary work where I practiced self leadership these meetings were where I was able to focus on more directed leadership development. In these meetings the group focused on the different aspects of our communal task and guiding these discussions were useful to show my development as a leader. In contrast to our initial gathering at Hospitalfields where I would take a more passive role in such conversations. Near the end of the project after various setbacks with the failure of a survey, morale was low and I found myself in the unusual position of attempting to raise spirits and refocus the group onto progressing the task at hand. Having to act in a way which is typically unnatural for me to do reminded me of many of the initial conversations about leadership and leadership qualities. While people may have a preference of styles or natural affinity for certain skills it is the flexibility and willingness to use a variety which can make the difference between a leader and a good leader. The work with Bite Back 2030 did also continue to exemplify how important communication is as a leader both from its impact amongst me and the other scholars as well as from the Bite Back team to us.

Looking to the future I do not see any large scale ways to implement my learnt leadership skills in the immediate future. With my studies progressing into their final year and the requirements to produce a masters level dissertation I foresee most of my efforts being directed toward this rather than seeking out opportunities to lead in any capacity. This is not to say however that I will go a year without any development of my leadership skills as I am the games master for a long running dungeons and dragons campaign with a group of six of my friends. This has in hindsight been one of the greatest tools to develop my leadership in mimicries of a surprisingly varied range of situations. Given this is both a great tool for my growth and a deeply important and enjoyable hobby to me I hope that I shall be able to maintain it through this final year of my undergraduate studies. Beyond this final year I hope to continue my studies in the form of a Phd where there will be more consistent ways in which I can practically implement my learnt leadership abilities. At most institutes Phd students are responsible for leading the tutorials or small group classes of first year students. Here I believe I will be able to practice a variety of the developed techniques such as time management, forward planning, communicative skills of both the tutorials purposes and more specialised concepts. These tutorials may also pose an interesting challenge as many first year students may not wish to engage with the materials being presented and as such create a more challenging leadership environment than I have encountered before. 

Finally I would like to thank lord Laidlaw for their generous support of this scheme. The Laidlaw foundation and my academic supervisor professor James D Mitchell for their support throughout my time with the scheme.




Go to the profile of Matt Fry
about 1 month ago

Enjoyed reading it, Peter! Especially the dungeons and dragons link haha sounds like you had a cool Summer