Leadership: Things I’ve learnt, and things I believe

Reflections on a year of being medsoc president at the greatest med school in the world. 

Someone asked me once what my secret to leadership was. I didn’t tell him this, but I’ve pretty much made so many mistakes that I had to start getting things right eventually. This is a list for John, and advice for anyone who wants to be a leader. This is essentially everything I know about leadership. 

Intimidation has no place in leadership.

My concept of leadership is a bit different to some people’s and a huge influence on the sort of leader I am was being terribly bullied in high school. I think if you spend your teenage years hiding in the library at lunchtime and hoping there won’t be a death threat in your locker when you open it – you grow up to be an adult who would rather die than intimidate anyone. If someone on my committee was scared to talk to me, I think I’ve failed as a leader.
Being approachable has been my trademark and I really think that if you listen and acknowledge people you can empower them to achieve anything they want to. All anyone needs is a bit of confidence and a bit of encouragement and I think your role, as a leader, is to provide that.

You aren’t more worthy than anyone.

If you help people with small, trivial problems as though they are a priority to you, when the time comes that you need something – they will never say no.
A president of another student society told me that his secret to leadership was to ignore all emails that weren’t important enough to be addressed to the president. This is the opposite to my approach. Yes, to remain sane you need to delegate things that other people can do to the same standard as you. But if you have a spare minute, why would you not help someone purely on principle?
Sure, you can say I don’t have to reassure my first year rep when he is stressing about something that won’t even register on anyone else’s radar. But because I did, because I respected him enough to listen every time, now if I said jump, he’d probably say ‘how high?’. People say I’m lucky to have such a dedicated committee. Very little in life is about luck, and an awful lot is about hard work. The same goes with relationships - if you want people’s respect, you need to earn it. 

Good morale is invaluable.

As president, the most invaluable thing I did was make an online group purely for the purpose of sharing ideas, stories and making fun of each other. I can’t stand the idea of a committee that is supposed to be working together, yet only interacts formally in meetings.
I remember being on a committee once where I was terrified of the executive. To avoid this, in my committee, we make sure we make fun of all members of the exec regularly so no one takes himself or herself too seriously. Instead of being names next to a position, if you can make a committee see each other as people, and even friends; event organisation and collaboration becomes simple; and being on the committee is enjoyable.
More than 3 times the number of people applied for MUMUS 2013 than did for MUMUS 2012. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Humility is essential.

When I think of likeable leaders, I think they have a vulnerability that they’ve embraced, rather than tried to hide. Obama, you might have noticed, is black. He’s also the most loved president the US has seen, because he’s not an arrogant, rich, white guy. K-Rudd is a bit of a bogan, but he doesn’t pretend he’s anything other than what he is and we love his dorkiness because it’s a vulnerability. People LOVE knowing those they revere aren’t perfect. Why do you think society is obsessed with celebrity gossip magazines that promise photos of Lady Gaga with no makeup? In a world where there is so much pressure to be perfect, knowing that people who have made it big have flaws comforts us.
I really like trashy pop music, I’m way too emotional and sometimes I’m just flat out wrong. Everyone on my committee knows that. I don’t understand why pretending to be a super-human piece of perfection makes you a better leader. It certainly doesn’t make you an approachable one.

You can’t please everyone.

My nanna used to say that even if you are the best tasting banana in the world, you still have to accept that some people simply prefer oranges and there is NOTHING you can do about it. At the end of the day if you can sleep at night, your mum is still proud of you and your best friend is still happy to be your best friend; I think that’s all that matters.

Sometimes if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

I once got an anonymous email that told me I was the worst leader MUMUS had seen, I was an awful and immoral person and everyone hated me. 12 months ago I probably would have cried, but instead I had to laugh.
A figurehead is a very easy target to vent your frustration on – this person doesn’t hate me as a person, they probably hate everyone in a leadership position on principle. They’re the people who donkey-vote because they’ll whinge no matter who wins.
Personally, I add these emails to the list of ‘funny emails I must share with my exec’ and laugh about how bad their sex life must be if they’re this frustrated.

If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?

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