February 12, 2015

Lessons from the Alberta Student Leadership Summit

The first annual Alberta Student Leadership Summit was held on January 31st at the U of A. Keanna Krawiec, undergrad student and communications assistant with the Office of the Dean of Students, attended the Summit and shares a few things she learned about developing leadership skills.

Lately, there has been much conversation on campus about leadership and the great opportunities for students to get involved or take on leadership roles. These all sound very exciting, but if you are like me, the idea of leadership is confusing and often overwhelming. This past January, I had the opportunity during the Alberta Student Leadership Summit to learn how students, staff, community leaders and entrepreneurs define leadership on their own terms. While I was hoping to develop a clearer understanding of leadership, I learned that it means something different to everyone, and that there is no one definition of leadership.

How do we become leaders? From the keynote speakers to the presenters throughout the day, I gathered advice on how to define leadership on my own terms. Brought down to the basic level, the advice was overwhelmingly simple and straightforward, and offers a best practice tip sheet that students can follow as we build ourselves into leaders right now, and into the future. 

All smiles at the end of the
Alberta Student Leadership Summit.
A few lessons I learned during the Summit:

1. Everything is practice.
Whether you are giving a class presentation, working on a group project, or dealing with conflict among your friends, you are always practicing leadership. No one is automatically an amazing leader. I don’t believe in “born leaders”  we all have to start somewhere. Make the conscious choice to view every situation as an opportunity to learn and strengthen personal skills that will enable you to better lead others in the future.

2. Be authentic.
When they are authentic and honest, leaders evoke the best response, not only from others but from themselves. Our passions and values shine through when we are true to ourselves, but often that gets lost when we try to fit into an idealized image of a leader. Authenticity applies to not only your face-to-face interactions with people, but also to how you present yourself online and in social media. Keep this in mind as you develop your personal brand in both the physical and digital world. 

3. Find something you are good at.
Leaders are not perfect at everything (and if they are, they are probably superheroes in disguise). Great leaders become the best by finding things they can do well and work hard at developing them. Perhaps you are good at relating to people and know how to talk to them, or are good at solving problems in innovative ways. Run with it. And if it turns out you aren’t that great at it, that’s okay! Find something else you are good at and try again. 

Great advice from keynote Miki Agrawl
4. Own your mistakes.
It has happened and will continue to happen to all of us 
 sometimes we screw up. And once it happens, unfortunately, we can’t undo it. Admitting that we made a mistake is always difficult, but the strength of a leader shines in their ability to own up to their mistakes and learn from them. Apologize to those affected, and develop solutions so you avoid making that same mistake in the future. 

5. Step outside of your norm.
As students, we often get caught in the repetitive cycle of study, work, eat, and sleep -- rarely making the time to try something new. As I listened to this advice from presenters, I realized that I was already stepping outside my norm by attending the Summit and volunteering for it — and, I loved it! Don’t wait for the day when you “have the time” to do all the new things you want to do. Even if it's only one new thing a month, it will help you figure out what you love to do and are passionate about. 

The biggest lesson from the Summit  is that we all have the power to become a leader if we truly want to. Start with these simple pieces of advice and apply them to your unique path of leadership, and you will surprise yourself with how much of a leader you already are. I encourage you to engage with the opportunities for leadership we have on campus, some of which can be found here

Share your tips and best practices for developing leadership skills below. Missed the Summit? Check it out on Storify, and get ready for the second annual Alberta Student Leadership Summit next January.