My Leadership Journey

While I have never been a natural leader, the Laidlaw Scholarship has allowed me to develop in ways I never thought I could.

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I have never viewed myself as a leader. I am rarely the first to barge into a new situation, I’m reluctant to take control and easy overwhelmed by big decisions – I have been known to hide during particularly contentious meetings with my flatmates. However, in my time as a Laidlaw Scholar, I have developed both as a leader and as a person. While leadership in the traditional sense is not something that comes naturally to me, it is a skill that has been improved and which I now feel more comfortable calling on when I need to and I have the Laidlaw scholarship to thank for this.

 

I applied to the Laidlaw Scholarship more out of interest in the possibility of pursuing my own research than because of the leadership component. However, as I thought about it more, I began to realise what a positive impact leadership training could have on my life if I were to succeed in my application. I have never had high self-confidence or self-assurance but when I arrived at St. Andrews, this had started to change. I gained more confidence when approaching new people and sharing my thoughts, but I was still hesitant to take on responsibilities and make impactful decisions. Leadership training of the kind Laidlaw provides seemed like an excellent next step in this journey and I felt that it would stand me in good stead as I moved through university and beyond. One of the goals I set myself in the Leadership statement we wrote as part of the application process was to work on using abilities I already had in terms of communication and relationship building so as to use them to enhance leadership and create the kind of atmosphere in work environments that I would like to work in myself.

 

In my previous leadership essay, I spoke about how empowering it was to find out that my preference for prioritising people over tasks did not disqualify me as a leadership candidate but instead made me a candidate for a different type of leadership. I think that the first year of Laidlaw leadership training really helped my achieve my initial goals and gave me the confidence to aim higher in the next year and realise that becoming a “leader” was not only something that could take a variety of forms but also something that I could do. This has led me to want to take on more responsibilities and push myself when setting my aims

 

After the first leadership day in September 2019, we were asked to submit some new leadership goals for the upcoming semester. My first one was to be able to actively put myself forward for leadership positions which would come with a level of responsibility. I knew this would be stressful but it felt necessary if I want to continue to grow. My second goal was to try to make use of other leadership styles that come less naturally to me than the ones I rely on as a DiSC SI type. While leading through building relationships, a good atmosphere and open communication is often very effective for me, I have found that there have been some situations in which it might have helped me to be able to behave in a more assertive manner and make big decisions quickly. I think these goals are a good progression from the ones which I set out originally as they have pushed me further from my comfort zone and working towards them has allowed me to grow as both a person and a leader. The ability to set the kind of goal which is attainable but still pushes me is something I also have to credit to Laidlaw’s leadership training.

 

In terms of looking towards my first goal, I have taken on a leadership position as a Nightline Public face. Nightline is the university’s active listening and information service, which is run by anonymous volunteers with 5 public faces who represent the organisation externally. I am currently co-publicity officer. This role was a lot to take on but I am enjoying it massively. It is a great way to give back to St Andrews and raise awareness of issues such as mental health problems at university. Just putting myself forward for the position was a big achievement as it was something I would have never considered even a year previously but the confidence that Laidlaw has helped foster within me made me feel able to go for it. The role has meant a lot to me because It has allowed me to work as part of a community which is dedicated to helping people, which is one of my core values, while also exploring a position which encourages me to be a more active leader. As part of the role, I manage our publicity team, a group of non-anonymous volunteers who help us with publicity projects. This has challenged me as I know that one way my anxiety over taking leadership positions manifests is in worrying about how others perceive me as a leader, and this is the first time I’ve been responsible for a large group. However, it has gone well so far and we are looking to expand this team. The role has also been challenging, especially given the circumstances we have all been operating in over the past few months. One of the hardest things has been negotiating sharing the workload with my partner. There have been times when the spread has felt unequal and I have felt that I’ve been doing more than my fair share. I am also very conflict-averse so I have been working on being more upfront with what I need from others and how we can communicate more effectively so that everyone leaves feeling satisfied and supported, including myself. I have been working on this by taking time to check in with people in between deadlines to make sure that tasks which have been allocated are getting done and will not turn into last-minute affairs that we need to cobble together to avoid letting others down. Taking on this position of leadership was intimidating and has not come without challenges, but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my time at university and it has allowed me to develop many skills which I had previously thought were beyond my grasp. Without the Laidlaw scholarship, I would not have had the skills or confidence to put myself forward and put my theoretical knowledge of leadership into practice.

 

In terms of working towards my second goal of utilising leadership styles which are outside of my comfort zone, I felt I first needed to gain more of an idea of what this would look like and what skills I would need to hone. After thinking about which elements of leadership I found myself lacking and which ones would be most useful to develop at the moment, I decided to work on being assertive. I have a history of being something of a doormat and allowing others to walk over me; going with the flow in order to avoid the barest trace of conflict. To me, being assertive means being able to stand up for the things you are passionate about and having the self-assurance to assert your own needs, knowing they are as important as the needs of others.  This has never come very naturally to me and I am a people pleaser to the bone, sometimes at my own expense.

 

The first thing I did on my quest to become more assertive was head along to a seminar run by CEED on the topic. I don’t think that it was until this point that I had realised how much my lack of assertiveness was impacting my life and leaving me unable to make decisions and have faith in myself, which in turn meant that others had less faith in me than I deserved. The seminar talked about the difference between assertiveness and aggression, which I found extremely helpful. A big part of my reluctance to assert myself sometimes stems from a fear of being perceived as aggressive. This fear was put to rest by being told that there is nothing wrong with telling other’s what you reasonably need from them. I think that as a young woman it is often particularly hard to assert yourself in a leadership capacity as when men are considered to be assertive leaders, women are often thought of as ‘angry’ or “bossy” spite performing similar sets of actions.[1] I think that fear of being perceived in this way has held me back and this seminar taught me some key tips for expressing myself and my needs in a team-based environment. One crucial one was learning how to talk to someone who has not done their job or is not pulling their weight. This came in the form of setting this out as a fact about what they’ve done, followed by an explanation of how this has made you feel, and finally, telling them what you need from them in the future. Having this template to help me get out frustrations in a productive manner has been massively helpful and has reassured me that I am not being irrational when I make requests, I am asking for the level of support which I deserve and have been promised. Most recently it has come in handy when dealing with my landlord. Becoming more assertive is by no means a journey which I have completed or even one which will end with the Laidlaw scholarship. I am still sometimes hesitant to be direct with people about topics which could cause conflict, but I am proud of the progress which I have made and I feel that it has made my a much better leader and communicator.

 

The goals I set myself in September of last year are ones which I am continuing to work on. I am also working to expand them in the future as I grow and begin to achieve them. For example, I hope to borrow the skill of attention to detail from the conscientious DiSC type. I know I have a tendency to overlook the details of a project while I focus on finishing it and building relationships. This can come at the detriment of the project so I would like to work on taking my time over things rather than allowing them to become frantic last-minute dashes for the finish line. I am also working towards goals concerning self-leadership. While I am not where I would like to be quite yet in this aspect and frequently waste time and procrastinate, I do think that the confidence Laidlaw has instilled in me in my own ability has made me less afraid of failure, which makes starting new projects much less daunting.

 

My Laidlaw leadership journey has been one which has affected every aspect of my life for the past two years. The programme has made me a much more confident leader and communicator, who is less afraid of speaking her mind. However, I think that the most important thing I have learned is to have faith in myself and my abilities – even if things do not go right on their first time, I have the skills and resilience to try again and eventually succeed. My motivation to get things done is changing from fear of failure and letting others down, to excitement over what I can achieve. This is a much healthier mindset which I could not have achieved without the Laidlaw Scholarship. I would like to thank Laidlaw team at St Andrews, as well as Lord Laidlaw himself, for seeing the leader in my eighteen-year-old self and for teaching me so much.  

 

[1] David G. Smith, (2019, November 22). The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-different-words-we-use-to-describe-male-and-female-leaders

 

Finlay Langham (she/her)

Student, University of St Andrews

I'm a third-year student at St Andrews studying English! My research is into spoken word poetry and its connection to politics, particularly in Edinburgh (it's a bit niche but I love it). I am also part of the feminist society and a public face of Nightline. I love to meet new people and bake what is objectively too much shortbread at odd hours.

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