Through dealing with project-related challenges and through communicating my research to different groups of people, I have developed my understanding of leadership throughout my Laidlaw research this summer. Furthermore, in keeping in mind what I have learned from the DiSC leadership attributes survey, I have developed more awareness of my self-leadership qualities. I have identified several areas for leadership improvement including communication, consistency, and decisiveness.
In my first week of research, I quickly discovered that I lacked a lot of the mathematical knowledge needed to understand some of the high level readings I was planning to use for my literature review. I notified my supervisor of this, and I decided that it would be best to strike a balance between learning some of the math and adjusting my project goals. I ended up taking a much less specific approach to my plan this summer because of this setback. I did more general readings in many different areas to learn concepts relating to environmental economics that would prove useful for me to advance further. This approach luckily led me to discover many different topics within environmental economics and it taught me how different subjects in economics interact with one another. Unlike my other subject, International Relations, we do not cover many academic economic readings until the third year. Instead, we focus on learning theory and math from textbooks and lectures. This is definitely necessary, but it does not allow you to see the process of how economists publish their work, debate, respond to each other, and influence policy. This project helped me gain insight into this world. On many occasions, I would suspect that a reading or a topic may be irrelevant to my project or too difficult to be worth my time. However, I learned the importance of setting aside some extra time to do exploratory readings on more difficult topics without necessarily expecting to understand them fully. This approach opened up many pathways to find a reasonable direction to take my project in. This process of tackling tricky concepts in a very new field was formational for my self-leadership. I learned how to deal with unexpected difficulties and to be flexible in my approach to my project to find a direction that interested me and was mathematically feasible for my level.
One of the most meaningful ways that I have furthered my leadership development has been through talking to different types of people about my research. Since the early stages of planning my research and throughout the summer, there have been many occasions where I have had to explain what I am doing on the spot without economic jargon. I have had to explain my research to my fellow Laidlaw friends, to my sister who studied economics, to my supervisor who knows more about my topic than I do, to my parents, and many others. Each situation unfolded differently, and I learned that each required a different explanation. Certain layers of technical detail need to be left out at each level. Learning to switch between each of these layers smoothly is crucial. When I am speaking with my sister who understands most of my project for example, I will go into a pretty deep layer of detail and leave out definitions which may need to be defined when talking to my Laidlaw friends who do not study economics. This ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences has been difficult, but has taught me important lessons about self-leadership. Learning how to know your research inside and out and be able to give a short presentation to someone who may be interested (or not care at all) is a helpful skill. I have noticed through speaking to past Laidlaw scholars in older cohorts at the poster presentation event last year, that it is a display of confidence and leadership when a topic is explained well, and this is something that I strive to achieve.
Communication is a skill in leadership that I hope to continue to develop in creating my video this summer and through the rest of my Laidlaw Scholarship. Specifically, I hope to focus on slowing down the speed at which I talk and being more mindful of how I catch someone’s interest. I have found that with a little thought, it is not too hard to tailor an explanation of my research to a listener; depending on whether they study philosophy, math or have no academic background, there is something I can highlight that could interest a variety of people from different backgrounds. Equally, it is easy to explain in a rather generic way that may leave the listener confused. This is something I would like to work on in the next year after having some time away from my project to reflect on what I have learned.
Consistency is another quality that I hope to improve on in my quest for leadership development. The nature of my project meant that I was not doing a lab experiment, or an easily measurable activity everyday where I would achieve results. There was not always a clear time stamp on work that needed to get done. Thus, there was a bit of inconclusiveness in many days of my research, reading, and data work. Some days, I would feel like I accomplished loads and I would observe progress in my understanding of a new idea. Though, many of the days were frustrating because progress was difficult to measure. I had to continue to remind myself that those seemingly progressless days were just as important, and that the fruitful days would not exist without the days spent doing exploratory readings where nothing seemed to click or spark an idea. I drew from this observation that consistency in my work is key. Putting in the hours and not getting discouraged when something goes wrong or overconfident when something goes right is important. I have noticed when leaders in my life display or lack this consistency, and it has caused me to pay attention to consistency in my own life. Consistent leaders I admire know that a lesson can take longer or shorter than planned, but regardless they use the time allotted to finish what is possible. I have had former bosses who may noticeably get frustrated on an unsuccessful day or get too confident after a success. Consistency is a skill that I hope to develop further in my work as a Laidlaw Scholar in the coming years as I believe it is a quality that allows a leader to gain the confidence and trust of others.
Comparing my results in the DiSC profile to how I observe my own behavior in practice revealed a disparity regarding how I portray myself as a leader in certain situations. On the leadership weekend, my leadership attributes survey revealed that I am an extreme ‘dominant’ leadership type. Over the summer in my research and work, I kept this in the back of my mind, and I discovered that the self-leadership qualities I display are definitely situational. In filling out the survey, I reflected on how it is possible that in a classroom or a tutorial, I do not mind being the first to speak up. Though I have found that in other scenarios I am more timid, less assertive, and less confident. This is not new. In high school, for example, I always had to prep for over an hour before going in to see a teacher. I would never feel comfortable asking even a simple question if I was not completely sure what I was asking. I have learned throughout meetings with my supervisor that this obsession with formal preparation and eagerness to present hard output at every meeting was inhibiting in many ways. Learning how to approach someone and just say ‘I don’t know where I’m going wrong, but can you explain this to me’ is sometimes easier and saves both parties time. I want to be more confident that the work I have done will show through in whatever form the conversation takes. While I may be more of a ‘dominant’ leadership type in other areas of life, I often surprise myself in realizing how hesitant I am in certain life situations. Regardless of whether this disparity in my survey score and my actions in real life is due to a flaw in the survey or a flaw in how I approached filling out the survey, I have learned to be more attuned to my self-leadership qualities. Continuing to think about self-leadership throughout my summer research has made me more aware of the type of balanced leader I strive to be.
In addition to consistency, my Laidlaw research tested my ability to self-motivate and persevere with my research, qualities that I believe are essential for a good leader to possess. Being in St Andrews in the summer was lonely sometimes, and it was difficult to self motivate when the library was not full of students. While I ended up enjoying the quiet, summer St Andrews environment more than I anticipated, it was not always easy to motivate myself to complete my self-driven goals. Meeting with my supervisor each week definitely helped to keep motivated and focused. It was a challenge to stay on track and persevere despite not having formal assignments. I believe that what I learned about self-motivation through this experience will definitely carry over to leadership in the workplace or in the future. Through talking to academics at the leadership lunches over the summer, I learned that most research is not set out with clear assignments and outputs marked for certain days the way coursework at university is. Nobody is going to look over your shoulder or handhold you. Rather, it is on you to produce the output you set your mind to. Thus, learning to create your own deadlines and stay in touch with your overlying project goal is necessary to be a motivated self-leader.
Decisiveness is another quality that I hope to improve on in my leadership development. I have often found that in my studies at university, I am very indecisive. In the past I have agonized over big and small decisions such as what I would study at university, what societies I should join or quit, which question I should write an essay on, or even something as seemingly inconsequential as whether to go to the library or not on a given day. Decisiveness is an important leadership quality which I have tried to improve on through my Laidlaw research. Throughout my five weeks, I made an effort to be decisive in my plans by writing to-do and to-done lists and by creating separate documents for each day’s notes and summaries. However, I learned that my decisiveness must be in balance with allowing for change within my project. My research agenda has evolved a lot over the five weeks, and I found that it is easy to get caught up in something unrelated but interesting instead of sticking to my plans. Being able to execute plans and make decisions with limited information is a useful skill that I believe will prove important in the rest of my Laidlaw research and in further study.
My Laidlaw research and experiences have tested my ability to deal with setbacks and to communicate my research effectively. I believe these skills are crucial elements to be an effective leader. Gaining awareness of leadership qualities, including consistency, decisiveness, and self-motivation has been helpful for tracking my leadership development and setting goals for my future Laidlaw research.