I bounced the idea for this blog post back and forth because I was not sure if I felt qualified to write this. Some people who know me might look at me and think, are you kidding? And some people might really think that I am indeed unqualified (which is too bad because here I am writing this).
I decided that while I know I have a lot to learn as a leader, I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years involved in student leadership. In that time, I have learned plenty of lessons that I think would be worthwhile to share. This is all to say – we are all constantly progressing towards being better in our respective spheres. If you have wisdom to share, you can share it and let the recipients decide if they like the advice! 😉
Tip #1: Remember and use people’s names.
Yes. None of this “I’m so bad with names” or “I’m a faces, not names person.” I think this is a general respect tip beyond leadership. It is so important to try to remember people’s names. When I think back to some of the best connections I have made, a lot of them came down to having conversations with people. These pivotal conversations tend to happen more often when you are not fumbling around in your mind, unsure of the name of the person you want to speak with. I do not even mean conversations at networking events; just speaking to a stranger or a friend-of-a-friend and remembering their name the next time you see them can be that next important connection.
I remember reading somewhere that everyone’s favourite word is their own name. You may not agree with this at first, but think about it – does it make you immediately more comfortable with someone when they remember your name? This is especially true for people who have been told they have “more difficult names”. People get so comfortable not knowing names that the phrase “I’m not even going to try” has become acceptable in many settings.
One of my foundational leadership experiences in undergrad was leading the orientation week planning for my faculty. When I was a Welcome Week leader during my second year, I did not go into it thinking I would potentially run to be Coordinator the next year. The skill I realized I had that pushed me to decide to run was my ability to connect to first year students and other leaders by simply remembering their names – as well as a bit about them. I noticed that many students and leaders seemed to appreciate this simple act of friendship. Bonds are the foundation of being able to lead a team. As a leader, your goal should be to highlight and develop the skills of the people you are working with. To achieve this, people need to trust you, see your vision for the group, and feel supported. You don’t feel this way about people who do not even care to remember your name.
I was confident that as Coordinator, sure, I would have the ideas and organization skills to take on the job. Most people can handle that part or learn on the job. More importantly, I knew I would be intentional about knowing all my team members by name and getting to know as many first year students as I could by name.
How can you get better with names? (Other than reading name tags!) Social media makes this a bit easier, follow people or add them on LinkedIn after you meet them if you’re comfortable! This helps reinforce their name. Start a note on your phone of events you have been to and who you met there. Sounds creep but could work for more “Type A” folks. When you forget someone’s name, apologize and just ask – or ask someone to remind you before you go up to them. Then, next time – make sure you do not forget. “The best apology is a change in behaviour.”
Tip #2: Learn who you are. Do the internal work.
Out of all three tips, this is the one that requires the most effort. You need to learn who you are in order to lead other people. Why? Many reasons. For one, people who are not in tune with themselves are prone to projecting. Leaders who do not know who they are often find reasons that the world is against them, instead of looking inward. When you look inward, you can quickly recognize your own mistakes, admit fault, and change direction if needed. When you only look extrinsically, there will always be someone or something to blame.
How does internal work help to prevent this from happening? It is important to know what internal work is. For me, internal work is integrated into my routine.
I journal often. I have one journal where I write freely about what is happening in my life. Seeing your life on paper can be pivotal to helping you recognize where you may need to take responsibility. Taking the time to sit down and think about your life, long enough to write down your thoughts is a mental exercise in itself. For example, I realized how often I romanticize interactions in my head – filling in a lot of details about someone’s thoughts when I have no basis for it. We remember a lot less than we think we do, writing makes it is real.
I also use The Five Minute Journal (special thank you to my best friend for buying me this!) which grounds me every day and night, allowing me to lead with gratitude. This is a great option if you do not think “full-on journaling” is for you (yet!). Gratitude helps me reduce my bouts of insecurity. It makes me much less prone to project onto others.
Reading could be a much better use of your time than binging another Netflix show. I find reading helps me get into another human’s experiences. This includes fiction books. You always get to know a character or person that is facing struggles similar to those we face in real life. Reading can be the deep dive you need into topics that are critical to humanity – racism, feminism, history, etc. Knowing more about how people live will only make you a more empathetic leader. Start a GoodReads to keep track of books you might want to read and perhaps set a really easy reading goal for the year – 1 book every 2-3 months.
The Importance of Vision + Do the work. Don’t just read about doing the work.
Bringing this back to my outlook on leaders, leaders have a vision. The difference between those who lead and those who do not is being able to see the end goal. Leaders can see the win before their team does; they are forward-thinking. This end goal is achieved by helping your team members transform into “winners” along with you. It is difficult to do this if you are someone who constantly shifts blame, is insecure, and loses sight of the vision for yourself.
The most important point to remember here is do not just read or listen to people talk about doing the internal work – do the internal work. I sometimes end up binging motivational videos or podcasts and before I know it, I have spent 3 hours learning about productivity instead of actually being productive. Whatever the internal work looks like for you – the meditation, journaling, time spent connecting to religion or spirituality – schedule the time in. Literally – add it to your calendar.
Still, the internal work also includes learning about how to do it effectively. I will share a few podcasts, videos, and books I like here but try not to go overboard – you’ve been warned!
- 1 Year of Meditation: What I’ve Learned – Nathaniel Drew – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNBRDvaRrdA&ab_channel=NathanielDrew
Side note: 10% Happier Meditation App – Free Access for Frontline Workers: https://www.tenpercent.com/care
- The Happiness Lab – How to Kick Bad Habits (and Start Good Ones): https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-2-episodes/episode-7-how-to-kick-bad-habits-and-start-good-ones
- What I Learned by Journaling for 30 Days – Matt D’Avella – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVzGGJHIJiE&ab_channel=MattD%27Avella
- My Non-Fiction Book Recommendations: The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole, Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, and Factfulness by Hans Roling.
- My Fiction Book Recommendations: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Call Me By Your Name by André Aicman, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
Tip #3: Be consistent. Be the same person you are when you first meet someone in every interaction thereafter (even when you think no one “important” is watching).
It’s satisfying to see people you admire achieve their goals and dreams – and it never really surprises you. Why? Because these people who have left you with that feeling of admiration in your one-off interactions are likely the exact same in the majority of their interactions.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
We remember how people make us feel. It is easy to be selective on when you “turn it on”. We see it all the time. Many people think it is harmless to only be your best around people you want to impress the most. In reality, being your best self in the moments that seem to matter the least are the most important. “You play like how you practice.” These seemingly mundane moments set up who you are habitually. They make “turning it on” in the moments that matter most to you – easy.
This ties into my previous tips. If you never remember people’s names in your personal life, how can you expect to bring that amazing habit into your professional life? If you are always late with your friends, how do you plan on being on time at work? This is not to promote hustle culture or productivity culture. We are not always going to feel our best and that’s okay – be honest with people. Be tactful about what you take on. Be on time. Submit work on time. Whether it is in-person, virtually, a planned meetup, or a random encounter – embody the leader you want to be at all times.
Some inspiration for this tip is a Twitter thread that recently received a lot of appreciation over on #MedTwitter. It was about a medical student who displayed the impact of maintaining integrity in every interaction:
This is how we describe people who stay the same – even when no one is watching. We gravitate towards them.
Conclusions: Just be a good human.
That’s all folks! I hope these tips were a bit different from what you usually find. Being a leader is about being a person. It does not have to be complicated.
Thank you for reading. As always – take a screen break if you need. Chat soon!
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