What is a leader?

February 12, 2021

Over the break, I was working on my resume to start applying for summer jobs. In many resume guidelines, I found online, it was emphasized that leadership experience should be near the top. My first question was why do people care about leadership so much? I guess it shows many different skills, such as organization, time management, ability to work in groups, competence, confidence and communication. My next question for myself was what makes a leader good? And this one was a bit more challenging to answer. To figure this out, I decided to think about a leader I look up to: the principal investigator (PI) of my lab. I have been in her lab for a little over a year and known her for multiple years, and her leadership style has been the most motivating for me. 

Rather than acting as the boss of the lab (which she could easily do as she is highly accomplished), she encourages everyone to be the leader of their own project. This allows everyone to choose a project in which they are interested and try to master it. Her facilitating leadership and responsibility onto each lab member allows the most amount of knowledge to be gained as she does not need to be involved in order for everyone to contribute. Each person is trying to maximize their knowledge in a concentrated field of their choice, rather than needing to split attention up into many different fields. This not only makes things more efficient but makes it so everyone is more willing to contribute and has more to contribute, as each person is the sole leader of their own project. She is able to delegate the responsibility of the lab onto each individual rather than just on herself. Through all this, I have seen that she has been able to enable growth in each member of the lab, which is not just good to see as someone working under her but also good for the overall lab as now each member is stronger. Overall, I have been impacted by her unconventional (or at least unconventional to how leadership is commonly depicted) leadership style of encouraging everyone to be their own leader as I have seen how effective it can be when done properly.

So I thought to myself, is this what leadership needs to be? In part, I think it could make a leader strong if they chose to implement this strategy. But it is not a requirement as many great leaders seem to have gone without doing this. That being said, I always thought that the best leaders never think of themselves as leaders but rather as just part of the team. Therefore, I think directly involving the people following you is one of the things that makes a great leader. Is it the only thing? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, I did not come to a conclusion of what makes a great leader. I just came up with one idea. But I think if once a week I reflect on a leader that I look up to and analyze one technique I believe makes them a good leader and try to implement it, I can slowly try to become a better leader, and hopefully one day, a great one.

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