True Leadership

My oldest granddaughter, J, just came back from a week at Occidental College as part of the National Young Scholars Program, an in-depth learning program for high-achieving 4th- and 5th-grade students. She’s a smart kid, that one; straight A’s, a natural leader, confident, capable, well-liked by teachers, friends and family. From the time she was in pre-school (actually, even before that, with her daycare), she’s always been a teacher’s favorite, working hard, taking extra credit assignments, helping her teachers just to be helpful. She loves to write, draw, sing, dance; she always has a creative project or three that she’s working on. We were so happy that she was nominated for NYSP and that we were able to send her, to help her continue to develop her leadership skills and learning.
She had a wonderful time and had very full days from the time she got up at 6:00am until she went to bed at 9:30pm. Each scholar was enrolled in a Leadership strand and a Discovery strand of their choosing. In her Leadership strand, the scholars worked on various skills such as communication, negotiation, consensus building, cooperation. For her Discovery strand,  she chose "Broadway Bound", a program in which the scholars write and stage a play within the 6 days of the program: script, set design, stage management, choreography, songwriting, costume – the whole shebang.  Her parents, younger sister and I went to see the play on the last day of the program and it was fabulous! It was wonderful to see the kids all working cooperatively together to change the sets between scenes, the creativity they showed in the scripts for each act, the way their sets supported each act. Just wonderful! I am so very, very proud of her!
Talking with J later that night, I asked more about the process and about the other kids, how everyone worked together with other scholars they’d never met prior to this experience. As we talked, she shared with me about one girl who seemed to feel that leadership was about taking over, about dominating the other kids. She wasn’t interested in others’ ideas; she didn’t listen to others’ input or gather their feedback as a true leader will do. "Does anyone else have 5 years’ of dance? Well, I do, so we’ll do it my way."
J said that one of the things that she learned from this was that she needs to be more assertive in expressing her ideas and thoughts. A good learning for her, as she tends to not be one to "rock the boat" but will often work to be sure that everyone is happy with the outcome, even if it means that her better idea isn’t used. To me, that is being more a leader than in simply taking over. A leader should gather others’ thoughts and ideas, help the team determine the goal of their work, facilitate everyone’s work toward achieving the vision. Simply bossing others around isn’t being a leader; it’s being a dictator and dictatorships don’t make for happy, cooperative teams in business or in life. I told J that being more assertive is something she can work on, but that she shouldn’t be like the bossy girl in her group. Being a better communicator and being stronger in expressing herself are skills J will continue to develop to help her continue to grow as a leader. Good lessons learned in her week away at college.
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