Assess your development as a leader.

My development as a leader has been inconsistent, but it has been gradually increasing over time despite setbacks. Right now I am at a low point, perhaps the lowest since joining the PLA, so I’ve been struggling to analyze myself like this. I think that I can manage it best by breaking it down into my strengths and weaknesses.

I have no small number of flaws. Dwelling too much on my flaws is, in fact, one of them. Over the years, I have realized that dwelling doesn’t benefit me in the slightest. Instead, I need to learn what I can from my flaws and my past and move forward with those lessons in mind. But still I struggle with this, and have in essence sabotaged my personal progress in leadership and other areas of my life. Leaders should think forward, toward the goal for themselves and those who follow them. I am not consistent in this, and as a leader would pull the group into stagnancy. In a similar vein, I’m not an optimist. Groups need to hear the good side of the results of their efforts, whatever those may be, without undue concentration on the bad side of things. The bad side, however, is where my thoughts tend to reside for much too long before I move on.

Another important thing about me that has hindered, if not prevented, me from rising to leadership positions is that I fail to accurately anticipate the amount of work I have to do, how long it is going to take, how difficult it is, or the amount of stress my body can handle before breaking down. For example, I haven’t accepted a position as officer in C.H.A.P.S, the club I’m been a part of since freshman year, because I’ve been worried that it would take too much time away from my school work. In retrospect, it is easy to see that I could have been a leader – I had the time, the ideas, the desire to act – but I held myself back with false expectations for the semesters.

On the other hand, I have bitten off more than I could chew more than once in my life. Last semester, I registered for two art classes, an animal science course, CAS 100, and research for my thesis. I knew the art classes would require some work on projects outside of class, but I went into the semester with excitement and high hopes to finally experience a great year at Penn State. I wasn’t more than two weeks in when I realized that my classes were going to be more difficult than expected and even more time-consuming. Still, I didn’t drop either art class; I had waited since I was a freshman to take these classes because I didn’t think I could fit them in before. I refused to give up, to give in, to walk away

without unleashing the creative side that I held captive for so long. All of this boils down to one fact: I occasionally pursue unrealistic schedules, either overestimating or underestimating myself.

This leads me to a different flaw of mine – I hate to quit. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I can’t do everything that I would like to do. Still, I’ve never quit anything I started, sometimes thanks to encouragement from people in my life. Until this year, I had never been in a position where I had too much to do and I couldn’t find some way to handle it. In a sense, determination is a merit, but too often I let it become stubbornness or a desperate need to prove to myself that I can get through. If I ever hope to lead, I must learn when to let something go, and I have to understand that sometimes letting go is okay.

Many people call me a perfectionist, but if I am, then I have learned something incredibly ironic about perfectionism over the past few years – perfectionism has lead to some of my worst work. Procrastination can be closely linked to perfectionism. When I first receive an assignment, I spend some time thinking about what I want to do with it, what my finished product should be like, and how to proceed. Unfortunately, I spend incomprehensible amounts of time thinking about how I want my work to turn out, and wind up creating a nearly insurmountable mental barrier – think writer’s block on steroids – so that I am unable to even begin. It’s horrible, and it can last so much longer than any deliberate procrastination ever could. I know there must be a way to snap myself out of it, but I haven’t been very successful yet. It’s a wonderful day when I actually attack a project without apprehension, understanding that getting ideas down is the most important step of the process and that tweaking and fixing, or even overhauling, can occur later.

I recognize the create – revise – reorganize – finalize method is the most productive and normally leads to significantly better results than the think – debate – worry – anticipate – generate method does. My use of the latter method is one of my greatest weaknesses. If I don’t correct it, I’ll be hard-pressed to find a leadership position, and if I found one, that organization would make pitifully little progress.

I’m relieved to say that I have some strengths that can help me in leadership situations and may help me overcome my weaknesses. I like to help coax along group work and contribute ideas, for example, and listen to others’ ideas, opinions, and issues to reach compromises or agreements with rationality. In group situations, I always prefer to mediate instead of initiating conflict or creating unnecessary tension.

Generally, my efforts to maintain peace are successful, and this gives me some faith that this could be my strength as a leader. Logic, rationality, and emotion must combine to reach conclusions acceptable to every party involved. In addition, open communication is of utmost importance, and I generally embrace communication in my own life. I have witnessed many working relationships fall to pieces when people involved do not share their true thoughts with the people they are working with. With this in mind, I try to set transparency and communication as goals when I’m working with a group or partner.

One of the traits I’m most thankful for is open-mindedness. For the most part, I think about differences between ideas, values, cultures, and lifestyles and consider them carefully before forming my opinion on a topic at hand. I’m uncomfortable fabricating my own opinion without trying to understand the reasoning behind the opinions of others; it seems to me that thorough research is necessary to come to any sort of valid conclusion. However, it is important to remember that being flexible is part of being open-minded, and this means that it’s okay to change or develop your opinion over time as you gain experience, talk to people, and learn.

I’ve definitely changed over the last few years, and I think it has been generally for the better. I am more comfortable with myself and confident enough to try new things, including leading. This improvement may seem minute to bystanders, but to me, the change seems huge. I can see myself in a different light now, and I feel like a stronger person. If I can just keep plugging along and making adjustments and improvements, I think I can become a better leader than I ever would have thought possible.