Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Andrew Porter, 2016-2017 International President.
This past year I’ve had the great opportunity to serve Phi Theta Kappa as International President. It has been a year I will always remember and appreciate.
My favorite part was, without a doubt, meeting and working with members, officers, alumni, advisors, and staff from all around the world. In addition to that, this year has helped me improve my professional abilities and personal character—I learned quite a bit about leadership styles, about teamwork, and about myself.
Combining this information with what I’ve learned in other areas of my life, I want to pass on to you what I think can be beneficial. I believe profoundly in the importance of learning and sharing.
So, as a parting word, I want to leave my leadership position within Phi Theta Kappa by sharing a few words, a bit of advice, two important questions, and one acronym for leadership that I hope you will take with you in life.
Most of this comes from lessons I’ve learned from personal, professional experience—mainly my successes and failures. It also comes from talking with and learning from leaders who lead effectively, and, in true Phi Theta Kappa style, from researching the subject.
To accurately convey my message, I’ll need to define what I mean by “leader” and “leadership.”
Leader: someone who causes a change to a situation on behalf of a group of which he/she is a part.
Leadership: the actions carried out by leaders, their cause and effect, and the interplay between leaders with teammates, members (constituents), and others over time.
Now, here’s the first of two crucial questions: What is the point of leadership?
Ask this question to a thousand people, and you will get a thousand different responses. I’ve been asking people this quite frequently (shoutout to those who’ve responded to this question and unknowingly added to my data set). From what I’ve heard, the most common verbs are “change,” “improve,” or “help.” Usually, these verbs are directed toward a situation or a group of people in need.
Author’s note: I may be biased here based on my own answer to this question. Truthfully, I may have only remembered these because they stuck out to me, so I encourage you to ask this question to yourself and others and see how frequently these words (or their synonyms) come up. Also, in case my statistics professor reads this, I’d like to stress that this research was very much unofficial.
For me, the point of leadership is to improve a situation (or solve a problem), and most situations I spend my time and effort on are focused on improving the lives of others. This is my purpose as a leader.
Here’s the second question, which is the kicker: Why would anyone want to become a leader?
Well, the easy answer is to improve a situation or to solve a problem. However, that is much easier said than done. In fact, leadership is difficult—so much so that many people will turn away or hold themselves back from being in a position of leadership.
I’ll be completely transparent here: I want everyone to feel empowered as a leader and go for that big idea they have, or organize and try for that grand change for the better, but I know leadership is not all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of extra responsibilities, and if you’re not careful, the stress can overwhelm you.
Things won’t always go your way; and when you don’t succeed, some people will look at that as your failure even when it’s not your fault. It is important that, as a leader, you are able to take the fault and avoid finger-pointing or assigning blame to your team, which will only breed mistrust.
You’re going to be put outside your comfort zone repeatedly, and you’ll be looked to for answers you might not have, to give speeches you’re not completely prepared for, to volunteer when no one else will, and to give hundreds of handshakes or hugs (my condolences to the germaphobes), all in the name of the most important task of all: doing whatever it takes to improve the situation for—and to solve the problems faced by—those who need you.
So, I’ll ask again: why would anyone want to become a leader?
Consider that question and answer it personally. When you have an answer that truly speaks to who you are as a person and what drives you, then you will know why leadership is important and why you need to become a leader.
Here’s that bit of advice I promised: Know your “why.”
My “why” is this: I want to help other people. I want to help others as a way to pay it forward to society and to honor those who have helped me when I needed it—even if I didn’t realize it. I’ve seen the effect I can have to improve the lives of others, and I know all too well the pain of missing that opportunity.
My “why” pulls me and pushes me forward. I think about it often when I’m deciding whether to take an opportunity, how to solve a problem, or what career path to pursue. In all these situations, I always go back to my “why.”
Leaders gain strength from their “why.”
I want to leave you with an acronym that I’ve come up with about leadership. It’s short, easy to remember, and, when done properly, will lead to success.
Value yourself, your team, and those who oppose you.
- Yourself. You need to value yourself as a person first, or you won’t ever try to lead others. Know that what you bring to the world is important and that you have the potential to improve yourself continually.
- Your team. Good/bad teamwork will make or break an initiative. Effective teamwork will be your most important skill, so always place the health of the team as a top priority. If any a skill deserves its own article as much as leadership, it is teamwork. No one can do everything on their own; teamwork is the ability to work effectively together with others to achieve those goals. Good teamwork does not add to productivity; it multiplies it.
- Those who oppose you. Opposition can show you the faults, weaknesses, and gaps in your team’s idea—it can also continually remind you of those faults, weaknesses, and gaps. Patience is needed here to look at opposition as a chance to make your idea stronger. Do not let emotions get in the way of reason. Value opposition, for that is the key to strengthening your idea.
Aspire to something greater.
Whether you want to improve yourself, your community, your organization, or your world, you need to aspire to create the change for the better.
Listen to everyone, and listen frequently.
Be careful to not surround yourself solely with people who tell you the same thing. You need diversity of thought to be effective. Simply hearing how great you are or your idea is will be nice, until you realize you’re not hitting the mark because you’re out of touch with the real situation/problem.
Continually evaluate your decisions. Once the plan has been executed and the event is over, evaluating the performance, success, and failures (a.k.a. opportunities to improve) will help you drastically improve for the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Apply this to yourself (“why do I want to become a leader”), to others (“how does this solution help this problem”), and to your opponents (“why do my opponents not agree”).
Many arguments hurry into a perceived dichotomy. Many times there are solutions to be found that will serve well the greatest number of people from both sides of the false dichotomy. To find that solution, you must listen to the other side with the intent to truly understand. When you can do that, you will be better equipped to find a solution for all.
Empathize even when it is difficult.
Empathy is like a muscle—the more you use it, the more you can do with it. Empathy buttresses the main points of VALUE; to be effective in the other values, treat empathy as a skill to be learned and improved upon.