When people imagine someone who clearly exhibits leadership qualities I doubt that I am someone who immediately springs to mind. I hesitate to take charge, I get anxious when making decisions, and I avoid confrontation with the kind of dedication usually reserved for lifelong marriages. I thought that this made me an unlikely candidate for the Laidlaw scholarship, having assumed, as many do, that leadership had to be about being the loudest and most authoritative voice in the room. Through my participation in the Laidlaw leadership programme I have learned that there is leadership potential in everyone, including me. There is more to being a leader than making sure everyone does as you say; it is multi-faceted and requires a myriad of qualities working in sync to get the job done in a way which ensures that everyone involved is happy with both the process and the end result.
During the application we were asked to write a statement about both out current leadership qualities and experience, as well as the skills which we hoped to develop. I found immediately that trying to figure out what leadership attributes I had and valued made me reflect on what I thought the word meant and which leaders I would enjoy working as part of a team with. I realised that the qualities I admired were ones which encouraged cooperation and empathy, making sure that all members of a team felt listened to and valued. Before I applied I felt that I was a good communicator and listener. Realising that these were qualities which could be applied in a leadership context encouraged me. The application process also made me think about what I could do to become a better leader and I have made a lot of progress in these areas through the help offered. ‘I would like to have the confidence needed to make decisions and be more assertive when it matters,’ I concluded my statement. When I wrote this I was thinking about times when I lacked the confidence to stick up for my own ideas and instead deferred to those who I thought had more right to be on control than me when, upon reflection, I was just as qualified and should have felt entitled to voice my opinion. This kind of imposter syndrome is something which the programme has helped me to tackle by encouraging me take up space in conversations and feel like my ideas deserve to be listened to and considered. I also wanted to feel more comfortable making decisions and defending them as the right ones rather than over thinking them. While it is important to thing decisions through in advance, there is a limit to the extent which this is helpful and knowing where than threshold lies is something which I wanted the Laidlaw team’s help in learning. Self-leadership is something else which was mentioned early in the process and was not an aspect of leadership which I had thought about before. While I am able to get things done before deadlines and to a high standard most of the time, I am not particularly self-disciplined and often find myself in black holes of procrastination and I hoped that this was another area in which the Laidlaw programme could help me.
Soon after finding out that we were officially part of the Laidlaw programme we went to Arbroath for the leadership weekend. This was the first proper chance we had to meet our fellow scholars and it was an amazing weekend, in large part because of the opportunity to get to meet such lovely and likeminded people. Over the course of the weekend we took part in a variety of activities aimed at developing our leadership skills. One activity which I found particularly helpful was analysing our limiting beliefs. These are negative beliefs we have about ourselves which are deeply embedded in our thought processes and hold us back. This activity involved picking out these beliefs and the effects they have and challenging them. The one which I picked was that ‘I am incompetent and underqualified’. The accompanying ‘self-talk’ which comes with this includes things like ‘I do not deserve and should not be given new opportunities’, ‘no one should trust me with important tasks’ and ‘I cannot be in charge’. This belief put me in a narrow comfort zone wherein I would shy away from responsibility for things where the consequences of it going wrong would not be limited to myself. We were then directed to think about what the opposite of this belief would be and how holding this one would cause us to change out behaviour. In my case this new belief would be ‘I am competent and capable’. The associated ‘self-talk’ would be that I could take on new and exciting roles that interest me, that I am worthy of trust and responsibility and that I deserve to embrace new opportunities. Adopting this new belief would allow me to feel more comfortable stepping into these roles rather than shying away from them. While I am still working to internalise this and act on it, I have made a lot of progress. The discussion element of this activity also helped as not only did I receive reassurance from my fellow scholars that I did not come across as incapable. I also got to appreciate that everyone carries these beliefs and has to fight to deny them, even those of us who came across as deeply self-assured. I have made some progress towards acting on this belief since and have been working on putting myself out there more, even when I doubt my own abilities. There were many other lessons learnt on this weekend which I have been able to act on and use to develop my leadership skills. The presentation seminar and practical presentation actives have allowed me to feel much more comfortable in such circumstances and the top tips on time management have massively improved my self-leadership.
Another part of the leadership weekend was being given our DiSC reports and finding out more about our individual leadership styles. During the introduction of this metric for describing leadership styles it was emphasised that no one style was better than others and that all were equally valuable. This was an excellent point of the talk as it helped to dispel preconceptions that those who acted in a particular way were naturally more suited to leadership roles. Instead it was stressed that regardless of the letters which best described your strengths and predispositions you still had leadership potential. I was told that I fell into the ‘Si’ section of the diagram, meaning that I was on the borderline between the ‘Steadiness’ and ‘Influence’ categories. Personally, I found that the details pointed out by the report were eerily accurate. This is perhaps because the location of my dot was on the rather extreme end of the wheel, but it was still odd to know that they had so accurately pinned me down. One bit of the report which I found interesting was when it looked at my motivators and stressors. I knew that I was very people orientated and valued creating a harmonious environment for everyone in it, but having this spelled out for me in a variety of ways helped me to realise the extent of this and the ways in which it manifests. The stressors were also interesting as they gave me areas which I am now working to be more comfortable in, such as dealing with angry or argumentative people, acknowledging and addressing problems directly, and saying no. I knew that these were things which I found unpleasant since reading the report I have been trying work outside of my comfort zone and have found it slightly less intimidating each time.
The DiSC report also offered insight into people with other leadership styles and how I could perhaps work better with them, which I found very helpful. The process has helped me better understand that different members of a team can have different priorities. While my primary concern is typically the people involved in a task and creating a positive atmosphere, there are people who prefer to first think about the task itself first and would rank its importance above that of the individuals involved. While I do not think that I am going to change my priorities, knowing this has helped me adjust my approach so that I perhaps think more about how I can frame my ideas in ways which account for this and make things easier for colleagues and myself. One way in which it was suggested that I could do this is by focusing more on details and taking care to get things exactly right first time in order to show that I care about the final product as much as other team members. However, while they are a valuable metric, it is also important to remember that DiSC profiles are by no means a full picture of everybody’s personality or an indication of irreconcilable difference. One of my close friends is on the exact opposite side of the scale from me and this difference does not impact our relationship. Instead it means that when we collaborate on things we get a good balance of perspectives and views, making the end result much better than either of us could have achieved alone. Collaboration and diversity of opinion and approach is essential to a team and all of the leadership styles can contribute equally.
Over the summer I also developed my leadership skills through the leadership lunches. The first one which we did was particularly helpful as it encouraged us to examine different areas of leadership and how we used each of them in both our academic and extracurricular lives at St Andrews. We were encouraged to link the skills we had to real examples of when we had exercised them. This allowed me to see the practical applications of the skills I had developed. It also offered a chance to reflect on times when I had taken opportunities which I would not have grasped before I started work with the Laidlaw programme.
My research itself has also encouraged me to develop as a leader as I have had to interview people, a prospect which I found daunting. I was thrown into the deep end and forced to learn a new skill, as well as the organisation and attention to detail which were also necessary. The research element was also very self-lead in my case. I had to decide on the angle I was going to take and while my supervisor was an excellent source of guidance, the decisions made were ultimately my own, which made me confront my fear of making the wrong choices. I also had to tackle my procrastinating habits over the course of my research. There were no concrete deadlines so making sure that I achieved all of my goals for the day was something which I had to be strict myself about and it got much easier as the project went on.
I have developed significantly as a leader over the course of my first year of being involved in the programme. It has allowed me to hone many skills which I otherwise would have thought were beyond me. I have gained confidence and now feel much more comfortable expressing my opinion and making decisions. I have also grown to appreciate the wide variety of leadership styles there are and that they are all extremely valuable can contribute greatly. Over the course of the next year of the scholarship I hope to be able to further develop my confidence and continue to grow and feel able to take new opportunities. Becoming more self-assured is another thing which I would like to work on as I often still struggle to believe that my ideas are as important as others. I would also like to thank Lord Laidlaw and the Laidlaw team for all of their help in developing my leadership skills so far.