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Blog post

Take Charge of Your Leadership Development

September 21, 2016
By GradProSkills


Which one is the more effective leader? Is it the one who is strict and firm, or the one who is more flexible in his or her opinions and approaches? The answer to this question was one of the many important topics discussed in Foundations of Leadership – the first workshop of the new GradProSkills Leadership Series. If you could not attend this semester’s session, worry not! This blog post will provide you with a summary of the most important points raised during the two-hour class.

So which one is the more effective leader? The answer is “It depends,” explains the workshop leader Kathleen Boies – Professor in the Department of Management at the John Molson School of Business. Which leadership style works best is determined by the people the leader needs to influence and the context of the interaction. There are many ways to be a good leader. For example, some graduate students work much better when their supervisor provides them with a clear structure and plenty of guidance, while others prefer a more flexible academic environment. The key to being a good leader is to adapt to your followers.

But if there is no clear-cut formula with effective behaviours to memorize, how do we become successful leaders? The good news is that leadership can be learned, but it is not something that you acquire in a day or two. According to Professor Boies, effective leadership is a process that requires effort and dedication.

Leadership as a process

The first step is to begin exercising self-awareness. As you go about your day and engage in leadership activities, try to identify your weaknesses. Which behaviours work for you? Which do not? Are there any competencies you think you might be lacking?

Once you have identified your leadership strengths and weaknesses, create a leadership development plan to address your developmental challenges:

  • Come up with a concrete, realistic, and measurable development goal. If you are lacking in time management, what exactly about time management would you like to improve?
  • Identify specific action steps that will help you improve this competency. Are you going to take a course in time management? Are you going to read articles on the topic? Make sure that your action steps are informed by research and provide plenty of opportunities for feedback from others.
  • Define target dates by which you want to fulfill your goal.
  • Come up with criteria for success. How are you going to know that your plan worked? Fewer assignments submitted late? More time for your friends and family?
  • Plan for potential obstacles and the means to overcome them.

Now that you have your plan, start following it. Make sure you engage in self-initiated leadership development activities on a regular basis. Even 5 minutes each day or each week will make a difference in your skill set. It might be a good idea to keep a diary where you write down everything you do to meet your goal and to review your progress regularly.

Extra tips for success

  • Seek challenging assignments where you can practice your leadership skills. For example, you can apply for an elected position at Concordia such as being an executive of the Graduate Student Association or of a specific student group.
  • Seek relevant feedback. One way you can do this is by signing up for the mentoring program started by Mostafa Ayoobzadeh – a Concordia PhD candidate – where senior PhD students mentor first-year PhD students for 8 months. If you are interested in this opportunity, you can contact Mostafa at mostafa.ayoobzadeh[at]concordia[dot]ca.
  • Identify resources near you. For example, the rest of the workshops from the GradProSkills Leadership Series are an excellent place to start improving your leadership competencies. You can also take GradProSkills workshops in other leadership areas such as effective communication and time management.

“Leadership development is important,” concludes Professor Boies. “It is everyone’s responsibility to take charge of their own development. It is no one else’s responsibility.” Why not start developing your leadership skills today?

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