This past summer, my daughter Malaika worked at her first summer job, which also happened to be her first time in a true leadership role. As one of two co-ordinators of her high school’s orientation camp, she was not only responsible for managing the various activities to help new students become more familiar with the school, but she was also in charge of overseeing the 24 camp mentors who were there to support the new students.
Although Malaika came home every day exhausted from a long, busy day, I couldn’t help but notice a transformation in how she recalled her experiences – where at the beginning of camp, she felt frustrated and a bit discouraged, but as the camp went on, she was more enthusiastic and excited about what had happened that day.
As she talked about her experiences being a leader for the first time, I realized that she had learned about 4 critical traits that we need to succeed at leadership; characteristics that are worth re-examining now that summer is over and many of us have a renewed focus to drive growth in our organization:
- Take the initiative in asking others for feedback
One of the biggest concerns Malaika had early on was whether she was doing enough to support the 24 camp mentors under her care. Sometimes, she worried that she was speaking too much and other times, she wondered if she didn’t give her team enough insight or guidance on what to do.
To address her concerns, Malaika decided to speak to some of the camp mentors she didn’t know very well to get their impressions of how she was doing. As it turned out, the camp mentors were not only happy with the job that she was doing, but they appreciated that she wanted to know what they thought.
By being pro-active in seeking feedback from her team, Malaika sent a clear message to the camp mentors that she genuinely cared about their opinions and wanted to know if her efforts were as helpful as she thought they were.
And this effort reveals the first critical leadership trait: our ability to grow as leaders is dependent on our willingness to get feedback from those we lead [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].
- Don’t hesitate to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty
One of the reasons why Malaika often came home exhausted from her summer job was not only because she had many logistics and personnel to oversee, but she often found herself running around to lend a hand to one of the mentors, or cleaning up after an activity to allow the mentors to spend more time with their kids to foster those mentor-mentee relationships, or even just helping with getting kids in the different groups motivated to participate.
As Malaika told me about these different tasks she did over the course of the day, I asked her what compelled her to jump in – did the supervising teachers ask her to do it? She just replied matter-of-factly, “I just saw that there was something that needed to be done and so I did it”.
And this leads us to the second critical leadership trait: leadership is a selfless act, where it’s not about your title, but how you can serve others [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].
- Frame criticism so it motivates people to stretch themselves and not shrink away
As I mentioned above, Malaika was one of two co-ordinators who were responsible in managing how this orientation camp operated. Unfortunately, her partner turned out to be a micromanager, and Malaika soon noticed how quickly the camp mentors tuned out this other co-ordinator when she started talking at team meetings.
So Malaika took her partner aside to let her know not just about the negative impact she was having on the team, but what she could do to improve the situation. Given that Malaika framed her criticism in such a way that the other girl felt Malaika was looking out for her, her partner started reaching out to Malaika to get feedback on how she was doing. And within days, everyone in the camp started to notice how Malaika’s partner was changing for the better.
And here we find the third critical leadership trait: feedback should motivate people to push themselves to grow, instead of feeling pushed aside [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].
- Your work is not driven by compliments, but by how well others succeed2
As the orientation camp came to an end, Malaika received many compliments from both the camp mentors and the supervising teachers about how well she had managed the camp.
As Malaika recounted some of the compliments she got, I asked her how that made her feel about the work she did. While she admitted that it was nice to hear, for Malaika, the biggest satisfaction came from seeing how well the mentors engaged with the new students, seeing how much fun everyone was having, and knowing that they had collectively achieved their goals for the camp.
Her reflections on her first leadership experience reveals how having this outward focus on those we serve over ourselves actually makes it easier for us to invest in helping others to succeed because their successes becomes ours as well.
And this reveals the fourth critical leadership trait: leadership success is marked not by how well you do, but by how well others do under your care [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].
As I told my daughter, I’m glad that she pushed herself to land this job and to take on this demanding role, not only because it challenged her to stretch herself and her assumptions of what she can do, but also because it gave her first-hand insights on what it really means to be a leader.
It also turned out to be a wonderful reminder of the critical leadership traits we need to have to ensure that we’re able to bring out the best in those we lead as well.