How to make a positive from a positive

I’ve always been one of those people who can’t help but be excessively involved in every single possible volunteer opportunity around me. I felt compelled to take even something as simple as high school Student Council elections to a whole new level of dedication. While everyone else was sticking to flyers, I would make banners as wide as the entire school atrium or art attack a whole field (I swear, you could have seen “JG 4 VP” from 10,000 feet in the air). In university, instead of simply making posters to create more awareness for the School of Music (I was in the Bachelor of Music program), I organized a flashmob in the cafeteria of Beethoven’s 9th (Ode to Joy). As you can tell, subtle is not exactly a word that I use too often.

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Well, two years ago, I took my “dedication” to a whole new level. Growing up I’ve always been involved in leadership conferences. They helped me grow, meet incredible people, and they truly shaped me into the person I am today. I was seeing all these conferences that I knew and loved being shut down and discontinued. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that other students were going to be deprived of the beautiful and life altering experiences that I had such easy access to all throughout my education. I knew I had to do something; and there began my journey to create and run a leadership summit.

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Running the summit program over the last two years has been the most impactful and challenging experience for me as a leader thus far. I was constantly jumping into new environments, collaborating with new people, and taking on massive leadership roles. I had to learn how to balance work time and play time with friends, how to manage a team effectively, how to give positive but valuable feedback, and how to ACTUALLY delegate. All of my years on student council, as conference chair, or as president of my student union were just a warm up for the main event.
One of the first lessons I learned in this new role was that being a leader isn’t about having the most power, having tons of Instagram followers, or being the loudest voice in a room (though trust me… I’m an opera singer, I’m definitely the loudest in the room). There’s no place for “cookie cutter” leaders in our world today, diversity is refreshing and is being celebrated. There’s also no right or wrong way to lead, but regardless of your style, it’s important to really dig in and work to improve yourself both personally and professionally.

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I know, those two terms sound super familiar, you caught me! Personal growth and professional development are the two pillars of PLP. Today, I want to take some time to talk about the first pillar, personal growth, and why I think it’s so important for leaders today.
I like to think of myself as Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec – no matter what’s standing in my way, who’s saying no, or what the consequences might be, I will run head first (sometimes literally) towards a goal I believe in until I achieve it to the absolute best of my ability. My name is Jaclyn, and I’m an extreme optimist. Sure, I can be sarcastic and sassy at times, but I still deep down believe that everyone is good and if we believe with all our hearts, a fairy godmother will come and take us to the ball. I know what you’re thinking, “but Jaclyn, optimism is great!” Yes, you’re right; it is great, BUT only in realistic healthy doses. Understanding that optimism is an extreme part of my personality allows me to stop and question if what I’m doing is helpful or if I’m being unrealistic and chasing a goal that may actually be beyond my reach.

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You might be wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, that’s because this is part of my personal growth journey. As a leader, it’s important to not only work to improve and understand “traditional leadership skills.” Emotional Intelligence (EI) and personal growth are finally taking the spotlight in the leadership world. Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your goals, and taking steps towards improving yourself are all part of personal growth. The Harvard Business Review also says that strong leaders (who have great EI) need 5 things: self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy for others, and social skills.
I’ve pinpointed something I want to improve; I want to be more aware of how my optimism affects my choices, and to be more realistic in my goal setting. But how do I do it? The little Shia Labeouf on my shoulder screaming “JUST DO IT” is not always the most helpful method in making choices, so instead I’ve found some other tools. One of them is Urgency vs Importance Matrix from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It helps me clear all the silly and daunting tasks away and get down to business (to defeat the Huns). If you want to try this out, fill in each category with anything you need/ want to do throughout the day. Then make a timeline of how you want to move forward (and what you want to move forward with). Remember to stay focused on the goals you set and hold yourself accountable!

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I’ve learned that a leader is so much more than someone who dreams big, stays optimistic, or has 3 dragons and a huge army to follow them (#GoTSpoilers). Leaders are the center of a united community, and they have the power to positively or negatively impact those around them. The truth is, regardless of what experience or knowledge you already have, you’re never done learning. A great leader recognizes where they can improve, and they actively work to better themselves. These past two years have been so inspiring, educational, and eye opening for me, and I can’t wait to see what the journey ahead will teach me next.
Alright, well that’s all for now folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed your first taste of our blog and what PLP is all about. Starting in July, we’ll be publishing new posts by members of our community who will be exploring topics in leadership, social issues, or sharing personal experiences. If you want to get involved in writing a post, give us a shout (via email) and we’ll get you started! Don’t forget to check back for our upcoming programming and awesome new blog content coming soon.
Thanks for reading!
Jaclyn
PS if you’re not super into reading this whole blog post, you can also check out a few of my favourite TED Talks on personal growth and professional development:

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