Monday, November 18, 2013

Challenges and Reflections of Being a Leader

Leadership...it's probably one of the biggest concepts and part of my own life that I am still trying to define and learn about...and now I find myself reflecting on challenges I've personally had to overcome to get where I am today.

Throughout my undergraduate career I've held a leadership position within the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and can fortunately say that it has brought me an incredible amount of experience that I am utilizing today and hoping to pass on to others.

One the earliest challenges I had to deal with was learning to meet certain expectations as a leader and learning what it meant to be a leader. To be honest, had it not been for some of my amazing mentors and friends I would have been lost.

Now I often find myself having the same thoughts....What am I leaving behind?...What impression do I give or am I leaving?...Am I doing my very best?...What is it that defines a good leader?...

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams 

During those times as a leader and even now in my term as the Region 7 Student Representative I find myself reflecting on the challenges I've had to overcome, expectations I've had to meet, and analyzing what I've done so far and trying to figure out if I had made an impact...if I had made a difference or inspired anyone to go higher....

When I attended the National Institute of Leadership Advancement Conference this past summer in Colorado the most interesting thing happened to me.

It happened a little after we had leadership roundtable discussions where attendees of the conference could take the chance to get to know regional and national leaders such as myself and some of the challenges that we've had to face so far. One of the younger attendees approached me and told me how much some of my responses during the discussion motivated and inspired him to do better and to improve his chapter and own leadership style...

For me, this was the first time, ever, that I think anyone had told me that I had inspired them to do better and that they wanted to improve themselves because of something that I had said.

It was from that day onward that I made it a personal goal to try and do the same to others and to bring us together to strive towards a common goal.  

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." - Douglas MacArthur

If you read my earlier blogpost on failure, one of the biggest failures as a leader so far has been the failure to recognize some of the people closest to me for delivering work and results that others do not see and cannot comprehend.

Failure, is one of the most difficult challenges of being a leader...regardless of how amazing you are at the end of the day you're still human and you're going to make mistakes...

However, the thing that I have learned the hard way is that when you make mistakes as a leader of an organization, several people can be affected. For me, this is still a very difficult thing to deal with because I care a lot about the people I'm trying to lead and how my actions affect them.

It was when I was confronted about this mistake that I realized I had been so focused about trying to set out to be a leader that I had forgotten why I worked so hard to get the position I have today...to help others, and to give them the recognition and rewards that they deserve.

I promised the individual who confronted me that day that I would work hard to make sure that I set things right, not just with him, but with several others who I know I hurt from my mistake. My only hope right now is that the individuals who I know I hurt realize that.

This also taught me another important lesson...and something that I recommend anyone who takes on leadership role pay attention to carefully....you're not going to be able to please everybody....it's a harsh and difficult reality to deal with but it's almost impossible.

Ask any President, any CEO, any leader in fact, there's always going to be a certain amount of people that will disagree or be displeased with you.

"I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people."
- Mahatma Gandhi 


Learning to get along with difficult and diverse people is a big key to success that I recommend you start learning now if you haven't done so already.

When I campaigned to be RSR, I had to make several calls to the new and current president's of chapters all across the southeast. The challenge I had to overcome at that time was explaining who I was, what I was doing, and why they should vote for me as well as get them on board for the ideas that I was proposing.

The real difficult part came when I had to explain all of this to chapter executive boards that had never even heard of the position I was running for or what it meant to be involved in the elections.

Now, I need to learn to be able to get along with and support roughly 25 different chapters across the southeast and getting everyone on the same page whenever we try to strive towards certain goals.

Again, not everyone is going to agree with you, and everyone is definitely not going to do things the way you want them to. I've seen what happens when people try to dictate and micro manage...it gets ugly and its counter-productive....

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." - John C. Maxwell 

I can't begin to tell you how much I wish there was someone to help guide me and mentor me my freshmen year...

I could visually see myself falling behind the other freshmen during career expos because of the amount of success they had with interviewing and simply connecting with people...

It wasn't until my sophomore year that I met someone who helped prepare me for the conference and that I successfully earned a co-op. However, it was from that experience my freshmen year that I learned the impact that a simple resume critique, interview preparation, an introduction....a mentor can all have

Observe and learn from others, look at their best practices for handling certain situations, how they talk to people, what works what doesn't work, then apply that to your own set of skills and make it your own. 

It wasn't until I spent hours watching some of the most famous and best speeches in history that I become more comfortable with public speaking, even more so after I gave a few in front of my mentors who critiqued me and told me how to improve. 

"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." - Warren Bennis

I grew getting made fun of for my Hispanic Heritage and being underestimated cause of it. My dream back then was to become more successful and wealthy than anyone to be able to come back and show off and laugh in their faces.

However...after watching several people I care about go down the wrong path and watching the struggles and conditions they have to go through everyday...my dream....my vision changed....

I didn't want to be better than anyone anymore, I didn't care about wealth, power, or status, the only thing that I had wanted was to be able to live in a world where we can actually get along....where the images that Hispanics and other minorities are not perceived as negative...

Everything I do is because I want to make this world a happier one for everyone, even if I'm standing alone working towards it I'll stick to my convictions till the very end, and just maybe...inspire someone to continue this goal and mission.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John F. Kennedy

I am still young, I have a lot left to learn and a lot of growing I still need to go through as a person and as a leader. 

However, if there is anything that I've learned from my experiences as a leader, its to never stop learning. Always keep an open-mind and observe others, you'll be able to learn from their mistakes and successes.

Additionally, whenever you find yourself thinking "I quit"   "I give up"  "I'm too burnt out"   take a break from everything you're doing, go somewhere for a little while and always remember why you're here? What are you working so hard for? What do I hope to accomplish? When you remember your dreams, passions, and goals and stick to them there's absolutely nothing that can stop you. 

NEVER....EVER let anyone tell you "you can't do it", not me, not your family, loved ones, ANYONE....you're the only one in control of your life and you're the one who decides where you want to end up. If you had told me when I was younger that I would be graduating from the #3 Civil Engineering School in the country with several leadership roles, work and research experience I would never have believed you. 

It was through the belief others had in me, the belief I had in myself, the dream I wanted to accomplish, and through so many amazing people that I am where I am today and couldn't be happier! 

Finally, the most important thing that I can say is, make sure that whatever it is that you're doing, that you're passionate about it and that it makes you happy, and more so remember to give back. When you're doing something that you're passionate about everyday of your life....you will never have to work a day in your life.