Strengthen your Strengths, know your Weaknesses

I spent most of today at a leadership workshop hosted by Alpha Epsilon Lambda.  The theme of this year’s workshop was “emotional leadership”

Some of the most important take-away points I think were:

  • A leadership role does not equate a leadership position.  In fact there are many great leaders that do not lead from traditional leadership positions.  As Dean DePauw mentioned during her closing remarks, the ability to connect with people through social media, and there-by bypassing traditional channels that are generally controlled by those in leadership positions, has empowered people all over to become effective leaders, taking the Occupy movement and uprisings in Egypt and Syria as examples.
  • There isn’t any one personality type that makes a leader.  In fact, anyone can be a leader, but it helps to be aware of ones own personality as that will affect leadership style.  Character, however, is critical to being a good leader.
  • Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.  It is important to be aware of that.  Groups work most efficiently when everyone is utilizing their strengths.  While it is important to be aware of your weaknesses and work to bring them to some passible level, you will see much more gain when working on to improve your strengths.

The last bullet point reminds me of a story from my undergrad past.  At the time, I was a competitive swimmer (now I’m just a swimmer who is a competitive person 🙂 ), and I was a breaststroker.  Breaststroke is a weird stroke.  People either love it or hate it, and their feelings towards it generally align with their own performance in the stroke.  One could probably make the same argument for each other strokes as well, but I think most people would agree that breaststroke has the strongest distinction between “those that love it” and “those that hate it”.  In the Individual Medley (IM) event, the swimmer must swim equal distances of all for strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.  I often swam the IM at meets because, well, it was the only event other than breaststroke that I was reasonably competitive in.  In a large part, that was due to the love/hate relationship people have with breaststroke, and my couch understood that.  It might make sense to try and improve in ALL the strokes to become a good IMer, but of course that takes a lot of time and energy, and many times a lot of work only translates into a little bit of improvement in strokes that one is not naturally good at.  So my coach told me to focus on breaststroke, both in practice (of course, since that was my primary event anyway), but also when racing the IM.  You see, it wasn’t that important for me to beat anyoe in the fly, back or free.  That just wasn’t going to happen.  However, I could usually swim the other strokes to keep up with, or not fall to much behind my competitors.  And that’s all that was needed, because when the breaststroke came around I didn’t hold back.  I didn’t think about saving energy for the final leg of free, didn’t think about being tired from the previous two strokes, because if I was going to win the event, I had to put everything I had into that one segment.

Most of the times, that strategy worked.