I can’t even deny I was SO excited to enter into the Leadership Niagara program and completely humbled by receiving the Niagara Community Foundations’ bursary so I could attend the program. I had no idea what I was in for but I knew that whatever it was, I wanted to be part of it.
To begin with, one of the things that started this eye-opening experience was one of the questions in the application process to enter into the program. Why are you personally motivated to explore community leadership? I said:
I want to explore community leadership because I want to find ways to help the community using my skill-set and knowledge while working with others to tackle issues facing our Niagara community. I want to become someone who can inspire and motivate others to find their form of leadership and teach them how to use it towards bettering our community. I want to explore the kind of leadership I can own, that is beneficial to the Niagara community as a whole.
Although I was taken aback by this question, I quickly realized that the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was one of the first places I learned that leadership didn’t just mean a title. It didn’t mean you had to be the President, CEO, Executive Director, or manager to be a leader. But although I knew this to some extent, I didn’t realize how much I would learn about what leadership really means. Who could be a leader and how.
Looking around the room on the first day of class, everyone came from different backgrounds, positions, workplaces, and titles. As we met each other, we all had various reasons for being a part of the 2019 cohort but they all stemmed from someone believing in the person. Someone wanted to give them a chance to learn how to be a better leader in a place where they would be able to give back.
I could go into detail about how much I loved the program and what I learned from each learning day because it was a jammed-packed amazing program that I wish everyone had a chance to participate in. But that’s not necessary. I want to touch on a few of the things that stood out to me about leadership:
- The importance of reflection. We always had a chance to reflect on our learnings throughout the learning days. When we started, I found it frustrating. Why do I need to write down what I learned from the day? Would I ever really need to do this in the future? Do successful people really do this? These questions were answered pretty quickly as every leader that spoke to us always mentioned how important it is for them to take time to reflect on things. Why? Because that’s how you learn and grow. Wow is that ever true. I didn’t realize at the time just how important reflecting on things can change your perspective, your goals, and your future and I see the benefits of it almost every day.
- Diversity and Inclusion are important. Although I already knew this, the importance of including everyone at the table really hit home during our privilege workshop. Let’s face it, many of us are born with some kind of privilege. It’s really important to acknowledge it and then learn from other people’s perspectives. Although it may take longer to make decisions, the decisions you make will be better informed. I was applauding when Jeffrey Sinclair gave the example of how important it was to have people with lived-experience at the table when deciding how best to tackle homelessness and poverty. Because how can we all make decisions for people when we don’t even understand what it’s like to be in their shoes? I could go on about this for a long time, so I will cap it with…inclusion and diversity in all aspects is incredibly important and should never be overlooked.
- Leadership isn’t just something to talk about, it’s something to demonstrate. It doesn’t necessarily mean being the leader all of the time. Sometimes it means demonstrating how you can follow someone else’s lead and listen. Sometimes it’s being the person who asks for someone else’s input before giving your own. Sometimes it means recognizing who is the expert in the situation and it may not be you. Sometimes it means just simply listening. But it always means motivating others.
- Recognizing your defaults and making a choice of how you handle situations. There are a few ways that we were shown how this works. One is that your energy is extremely important. It doesn’t mean you always have to be positive but the way you handle stressful situations can have a huge influence on others. As a leader you have to acknowledge this and then make the choice of how you want to influence others. The second is your default of handling situations whether they are positive or negative situations- you need to find a balance in your default reactions focusing on stability and change.
- The value of thanking people. This was a huge learning for me as I found it can truly make or break a person’s experience if they feel they are not valued. It doesn’t take much to say or send a simple thank you but it can make all of the difference and it does matter if it’s timely.
- You are always a leader. It doesn’t matter what you are doing and who you are with, you have the chance to influence people. As a leader you should do that positively, authentically, and intentionally. Being a leader isn’t something that just shuts off, so you have to choose how you want to be a leader. There are simple ways to influence people – by smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, by saying hi to the person sitting on the park bench as you walk by, by waving to the person who lets you merge while you’re driving, by thanking someone who gave you directions or answered a question, by taking a minute before you respond in a negative situation. There are so many ways you influence people every day, make sure you’re influencing people with intent.
Another question they asked in the application process was: In your view, what’s the most important attribute of a leader? My response, and I still stand by it:
One of the most important attributes of a leader is passion because if a leader isn’t passionate then it is difficult to motivate others, and represent something full-heartedly. When someone is authentic, they are able to inspire others with that energy and focus on the task at hand.
Although I still stand by this and think passion is an incredibly important attribute of a leader I also really want to point out that so is compassion. Throughout this course and this year of learning, I’ve found that being compassionate towards everyone will always make you a better, more genuine leader.
Arienne Good is a recent Leadership Niagara graduate and the Fundraiser for the YW