The Three Foundations of Being a Leader
“With great power comes great responsibility” – Uncle Ben.
Now, I understand that I am not a superhero, but as a young child, playing on the soccer field with that nice bright green captain’s band around my arm, I sure thought I was. What is interesting about wearing a symbol that shows “power” is that it does come with a lot of responsibility. While playing soccer during my teens and early adulthood, I needed to learn to use my appointed power to help others. This was not only on the soccer field, but in work positions, and life.
Foundation number one: Common Ground
Finding common ground might sound like something you hear from your parents if you are fighting with your siblings, but I promise it does more than just bring your family peace. Through my experience of being on a team, I have learned that finding common ground is often there we just don’t always see right away. Other times, like when meeting someone new, it happens without any effort. When I started my new job, we had to go through the awkward first stage of meeting new people. Well, thanks to social media AKA the center of our lives (mostly kidding) we broke the ice real quick. My co-workers and I found our common ground by talking about Tik Toks. The most popular and used app as of 2021. This conversation alone easily had us laughing and chatting for a while. We talked about our favorite sounds and videos from the app and before we knew it, we had found common ground. Since then, we now have the opportunity to share our favorite videos, have videos that remind us of each other, and have some laughs while at work.
Having common ground has improved our relationships, our work environment, and overall team culture. The next time you are sitting in the office and you are feeling disconnected from your coworkers, take a moment to try and find some common ground. Do they drink coffee every day? What do they talk about? Look for something that you can connect on and then start building that relationship.
There are other times when you work with people who are a lot younger than you, or in my case, high schoolers. That finding common ground is easier said than done. I am only 21 years old, but I would have 16-year-olds speak to me like I was much older. They would often come into work in bad moods, (teenagers am I right?) and not want to do anything but leave and be on their phone. This job already did not have a wonderful moral, so I was determined to make it better. I did not want the teens to think working had to be terrible. I would often sympathize with them about their busy schedules and listen to the high school drama. They often came up to me and since I wanted them to feel like I cared about them, I would remember names, places, and small details that they shared with me. They would be so amazed saying “oh wow, you remembered?’ and after some time, they began to feel different about the job.
Showing Appreciation and Praising the Baby Steps
My favorite thing to do for employees was on the last weekend of the month. I would take drink orders and buy them, a Dunkin Donuts drink. It was my gift to them to say “I appreciate all of you and the hours you put in”. They loved this idea and would often try to request the last weekend of the month to work with me. I had that authority over these teenagers and I earned their friendship, they began to talk to me, which led to conversations about what we had in common. For example, a lot of my workers played a sport. I would always ask them questions about their sport and a few of them always told me they wanted to play in college. I played a college sport, at a few levels, and I would tell them about how it was to be a collegiate- student-athlete. I would share my previous experiences with them to let them know how tough it can be, but it is definitely worth the time and a way to make friends. Because of my recent pass with playing a sport in college. I now know that I can laugh with my co-workers and talk to them about things that are not work-related. I lent an ear to the teens and rewarded them, turning work into something that is less dreadful. The work environment plays a huge role when it comes to the workers.
Foundation number two: How to overcome negative environments.
Even though I am still considered young by some, my previous experience shows I have held leadership roles. I realized that being a leader does not mean you have to be the best at everything, but it is the way you handle situations. For example, during my collegiate soccer years, there was a girl on the team who did not like to be told what to do. This was interesting because we were on a team with a coach who needed to tell us what to do so that we could become better. This particular teammate carried a heavy negative attitude. Her negative attitude has a huge ripple effect on the team. She would come every day to practice and be disrespectful to everyone and anyone. This hurts the team because she would tell incoming freshmen negative things that would ruin their spirit their first year and it seemed like they would never recover. There were often where the rest of us would try and make the best out of our situation. There were times in between drills and practice that we would group up and say words of encouragement.
These times were pre-planned by some of the other leaders that were tired of the constant negative energy. There were times we had to get-togethers and played games created to know everyone better. During the summer times, we would go all tubbing and this was a trip we all looked forward to. This was a time that had nothing to do with soccer, no coaches, and no seniority. The teammate with the negative attitude seemed not as important anymore because we all became friends. Becoming friends helped overcome the negative attitude because we had a stronger bond by being friends.
Having a Positive Attitude Changes the Atmosphere
There will be times in the professional world though when we have coworkers who have negative attitudes. It can be easy to get sucked into that negativity, but as a leader, our responsibility is to change the atmosphere. If we see our team is hurting and dysfunctional we would be poor leaders to let them stay in dysfunction. When it comes to being a leader I think the most important quality is having a good attitude. I believe this to be true because being a leader, all eyes are on you. The subordinates you look over will always watch to see what you are doing. This is why I believe having a positive attitude is a key component for a leader.
Foundation Number Three: Inside a Leader’s Mindset.
I think a way that people can learn how to have better attitudes towards things, is to have a quote, phrase, or memory that supports you to do well. I use quotes to help put me into a mindset that wants me to do better. I had a coach tell me one time “if you rush, you lose time” now when he said this he was talking about playing soccer. However, I took that quote and applied it to life.
There was a time when a teammate and I were running late to practice. While I was driving, a police officer pulled me over. We went through the whole thing and at the end of the stop, he said to me “well next time don’t rush places, you’ll get there safer if you take your time”. When the officer said that my teammate and I looked at each other and laughed because our coach always told us that on the field, but that was my experience hearing it applied to life. That is when I started to see how it could help me in any situation. I always tell myself to never rush through anything, do it at my own pace. Because I know it will be better if I do and because I heard this saying I know what motivates me and my attitude to work hard.
Finding a quote, phrase, or memory does not have to be something difficult. It also doesn’t need to be something forced. What is good about life is that we read and hear so many different things, per second because of how fast the world moves. It does not need to be a sign or something from a boss. It could be as simple as a funny Doritos commercial, but what it does need to be is significant to you as a reminder of your attitude.
The team I was on before college was a very positive, unified, goal-minded environment. The club team was how a team is supposed to be, working in unison. There need to be people who are willing to work and there needs to be a leader who can lead by example. The club team was my first experience of having to work with others because I was with them so much. The girls on the team wanted to do well and they wanted to get better so that at the end of the day we knew we did our best. There is never a better feeling when doing something you love and at the end of the day looking in the mirror and saying “I did the best I could”.
For instance, having a team goal. While having a team goal helps a group focus on what they want to accomplish, it can also be used to help remind people what they are working for. I believe it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure everyone is working towards the common goal. My teammates all wanted to win games, go up the ranks, and eventually have the skills to be recruited for college teams. As a leader on the team, if I would have left a mate slack off, I would not have only hurt her as a player, but it would have weakened our team as a whole. It was not easy to tell your friends to pick it up, but it was something my coach expected from me so I had to learn and gain confidence.
Perception is Everything and Your Team will Feed off your Perception
The way you perceive things is how you think other people do, it is contagious. For example, a yawn. When someone near you yawns you catch yourself yawning without any hesitation. The attitude my college teammate had was contagious. She would often spread negativity that would start a change reaction. This team’s attitude towards one another never changed because people were often stuck in the cloud of negative energy teammates would make. We could not be successful together because we did not have any foundation of a relationship to build from. Some girls did not want to try, be there, or even care. I did my part to always go into something 100% and to leave with my name being known as a hard worker. I won a conference sportsmanship award for on-the-field play. Although the team never learned to become one on the field, one good thing that came from this was that I met my best friend during this time. We both bonded on wishing the team would want to try harder to get better.
The leadership experience I hold is very important and precious to me. I was raised to never disrespect your authorities and to always have respect for people around you. I like to think my family helped shape my leadership abilities. During my time as team captain, my coach gave me the captain’s band and pulled me aside, and said “you are the person the girls will look at, even when you think no one is watching, they are.” This helped shape me because I never want anyone to associate my name with the word “lazy”. While being a child I remember other kids, as well as myself, always use the phrase “well others do it”. What they meant by this was that they saw someone do something and they automatically thought it was okay for them as well. A co-worker of mine comes into work with a positive attitude and ready to work. She is an authority figure to me and since I am still new, she has shown me that the place we work is nothing but friendly. What she has not realized is that her positive attitude makes me want to work harder so I can be trusted with more tasks, move up positions, and come to work.
The quote at the beginning of this stuck with me because I fully believe it is true. When being trusted with power and authority tends to change the way people act and can not always be a good thing, however, what I bring to my work’s table is that I know and understand how to handle situations like change and to remain humble. I have always remembered I started from the bottom so I know how my workers feel. Employees of all positions need to remember we are a team and without one employee it would hurt us, but staying together and remembering that everyone performs an important function helps the company better than any one person. During these times people across the country feel underappreciated by their jobs, however where I work we help that by allowing other companies to show and give their appreciation not in just money form but in ways they can all have fun and work together. This is important because it helps remind employees how important they all can be when working together.