The Choice of Leadership

Take-aways from the National Conference on Student Leadership

This last week of my life was incredible- not because it was the first time I took an exam on a Saturday morning, but because I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Student Leadership (NCSL) in Orlando, FL. During the conference, I got to interact with a number of diverse student leaders from all across the U.S. (and other countries), gain invaluable insight from motivational speakers and esteemed professionals, and explore an entirely different part of my personality- the leader in me. Everyone has the ability to lead- to play a bigger role in one’s school, campus, or community- however, only those who can tap into their inner potential and coalesce their energy into creating positive change will define themselves as leaders. NCSL instilled in me the fundamental ideas and values necessary to go above and beyond, to think big and dream even bigger, to become a true leader. Here are three of my biggest take-aways:

1 Envision Change

All great leaders have a vision- an alternate world or reality that they see for themselves and for those around them. But, what does it really mean to “have a vision”? I (or anybody) can have a vision, but how exactly is that different from Steve Jobs, working in his garage, having the vision to create a multi-billion dollar company that has been reigning the phone and computer industry for years? How is that different from Thomas Jefferson, sitting on a desk on July 4th , 1776 authoring one of America’s most influential political documents envisioning a free country on the verge of writing its own future? Or from Gabrielle Douglas, training in her hometown gym facility, dreaming of becoming the first African-American female athlete in Olympic history to be an all-around individual champion?

It must be clearly defined

It has to be lucid enough for others to foresee it and tangible enough to be able to broken down into smaller, short-term goals that are more realistic and achievable. Clarity in a vision lends to its power, credibility, and trust.

Unparalleled, unquestionable, and unwavering belief

In order to make the vision a reality, one must fully dedicate oneself to the vision and not sell oneself short to anyone, at any time. There will always be criticism and rejection, but having the ability to block out the “noise” and taking everything as feedback/constructive criticism is crucial for success. Furthermore, all great leaders may appear to be a little quirky or have idiosyncrasies, but that stems from a kind of a crazy fanaticism towards their dream, an essential attitude that I personally have not only grown to respect, but also admire.

Take action and grind it out

When it comes down to it, a leader must have to be able to work at the grassroots level towards the goal- no matter what it takes. People who were and are great leaders did not live a perfect life- they had to sacrifice and do the “dirty work” day in, day out to make their vision a reality. Blood, sweat, and tears are an innate part of the staircase to a better and brighter future.

2 Inspire Action

Taking action alone is necessary, but not sufficient. All great leaders- most notably Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela- inspired (and as a result, united) others to join a movement and come together for a common purpose.

Mastering the art of persuasion

Persuasion does simply mean being an effective orator- it means practicing and preaching the same ideas, serving as a model for others to follow, and imparting a mental shift in thinking to catalyze change. Martin Luther King became a social activist to end segregation and discrimination against African-Americans in the South. Ghandi and Mandela both used to non-violent means to campaign against British rule and the South American government, respectively. History exemplifies the fact that leadership comes from a place of purpose, not of power or position.

Possessing a high degree of emotional intelligence

In order to inspire action, it is important to first get everyone on the same page psychologically. Any leader must master the four core emotional intelligence skills- self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and then finally, relationship management. In short, this means being able to express personal emotions as well as recognizing and managing others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is the basis of ensuring healthy and successful interpersonal relationships and key to propelling action.

3 Embrace Failure

Perhaps the most important take-away from the NCSL conference was the fact that it’s okay to fail. In fact, many leaders failed one or more times in their lives. Michael Jordan, widely considered the best player in basketball history said himself:

“I’ve failed over and over and over again. And that is why I succeeded.”

Henry Ford, when he was first starting out, went broke fives times before he invented the assembly line process and became famous in the automobile industry. Albert Einstein was considered mentally handicapped before he came up with the theory of relativity. Obviously, failure this does validate not giving effort- but it empowers the fact that mistakes are sources of improvement. In fact, failures can actually help put things in perspective, provide a learning opportunity for future growth, and act as the greatest teachers.

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