My Personal Leadership Development Plan

Management and Organizational Life was one of the most beneficial courses that I have taken towards the completion of my degree, and it is a course that every person should consider taking. Although it is a business course, the content of the course provided me with valuable insights into myself and the people around me.  These insights can be applied to the manner in which I interact with others and conduct myself in the workplace, in my personal relationships, and at home.  I believe that the greatest skills that a leader needs is the ability to interact and communicate with the people around them, and the desire to understand the differences that make each of us a unique person.  A great leader is only as good as the team that he/she leads.

From working as part of a team to complete a project online I was able to learn many things about myself.  First, I learned that I am not always the most patient of leaders.  I tend to expect others to be self-motivated and show initiative by stepping up to assume responsibility for tasks without needing to be told what needs to be done.  This proved to be challenging to me primarily because the assignments were clearly written and yet others in the group seemed to approach the task with a sense of ambiguity.  To ensure the group continued to function, I had to overcome my sense of frustration with the others and learn to be a bit more tolerant and patient.  I then needed to learn methods of guiding them without being a dictator in order to allow them the opportunity to grow and develop their own leadership skills.

Moving forward, I need to embrace the opportunities that pursuing my Bachelor of Education will provide me.  In my courses I will need to actively engage in the material and contribute to discussions.  It is essential that I remain receptive to the ideas of others, as having experience as a teacher does not mean that I know everything there is to know.  I will need to ask questions to clarify things when I am unsure.  During my placements in a school I need to connect with my mentor by asking for explanations of the different approaches that he/she uses in their classroom in terms of organization, assessment, and behaviour management.  I need to recognize my mentor as being a valuable resource in my education.

I think that one of the stumbling blocks that my teammates experienced was a lack of real-life experience when it came to organizing tasks.  It was great that they had big ideas, but the ideas often faltered when they were examined in terms of practicality.  Although there were times that I felt as time was being wasted, I had to force myself to be more relaxed and allow the ideas to be explored and for time to be spent trying to develop them so that they could learn for themselves where the ideas fell short.  For me to simply point out the faults of an idea would have come across as being unsupportive to my teammates, but it also would have robbed them of the opportunity to learn.

In order to be a better leader I had to learn to connect with the other members of my team.  This was a task that was further complicated by the fact that all communication was being conducted in a text based manner through communication boards, emails, and Google chat.  Taking away the ability to visually see the other person to include non-verbal communication as part of the message it was necessary to ensure that we were clearly articulating what we wanted the other members of the group to hear, and that we were doing so in a manner that would not be offensive to the others.  This was easy if the message being communicated was giving positive feedback on tasks.  However, to give constructive criticisms without physically being with the person and having the ability to show them what you mean was more difficult and required patience on behalf of the person communicating the message and the person receiving the message.

As a leader I think it is important to know when to let your team explore concepts and ideas to come to realizations on their own and when to outright tell them when something will not work.  In the tasks that were assigned to us, I believe the true goal was for us to learn how to function as a team.  Of course in doing so we were also to come up with a fundraising plan for a charity, but this could not have been accomplished if we did not first learn to come together as a team.  The greatest lesson we had to learn was how to compromise.  Even in the development of our team goals and vision I found myself differing from the majority of the group in what I think is important, which I believe is a result of being at a different stage of life.  While my other team members are still at the beginning phases of life in which they are establishing who they are as a person and creating a life that is independent from their parents, I am in a completely different stage of life.  I am employed full time, and have been in the workforce for more than 20 years.  My goals are more about being content then with making huge accomplishments in my career and establishing myself financially.

That is not to say that there are no goals that I wish to accomplish.  In fact, this course allowed me to examine a truth about myself that I would otherwise have avoided.  Throughout life I have feared being successful, and in many ways backed away from success when it was within my grasp.  The closer I became to finishing my degree the less motivated I was becoming in completing the courses.  This is likely something that others would not have actually picked up on considering the lowest mark on my degree audit was a B.  However, by acknowledging my fear of success I was able to face it and find the motivation necessary to complete the last task for achieving my Certificate III in Children Services through the International Child Care College in Australia.  Additionally, I found the motivation necessary to maintain enthusiasm in the two courses that I was taking through the University of Windsor’s distance education program, even as I faced the added challenge of an arm injury that limited my ability to type.  It was as though one last obstacle was being thrown in my way to test my newly found determination to not waiver and fail when success was so close.  So instead of allowing the arm injury to become an excuse for not completing the course material, I instead faced the challenge by learning to manipulate the mouse with my left hand and to type using just my left hand at a point in the courses when major assignments needed to be completed.  The typing was slow at first, but as I progressed through the assignments that remained I found that it was becoming easier to manage.  I think in that moment of introspection when I acknowledged my fear of success, I was able to face the factors contributing to that fear and overcome it.

So where will I take my leadership from here?  Towards the end of February I received an email from the Faculty of Education at Windsor informing me that this coming academic year would be the final year which the Bachelor of Education program would be one year and that there was still time to apply.  (Two days to be exact!)  After this year it would become two years in length.

That night I sat down and had a conversation with my husband.  When I first registered at Windsor as a student the plan had been that after I received my degree I would go to Teachers’ College.  At that time we had not known we would end up living and working in the Middle East.  At the end of the conversation I had come to the conclusion that I was in job that I enjoy and I did not want to be separated from my husband for an extended period of time.  Then I went to sleep.  When I woke up in the morning I went against the conclusion I had reached and applied to do my Bachelor of Education at four different institutions back in Ontario.  The only reason I had for doing so was that several years ago when I started to work towards my degree the goal was that I wanted to become a qualified teacher.  This was my opportunity to make the choice between accepting mediocrity or reaching for the goals that I wanted.  I decided that I would regret the lost opportunity to achieve my goals, more than I would regret leaving a job I love and being on the other side of the world from my husband for a year.

Teachers’ College is my opportunity to go from being a good preschool teacher to being a great primary teacher.  I know that despite having four years of experience in the classroom that there are still strategies and techniques that I can learn to improve my abilities.  This will be an opportunity for me to build my skills while forming a network with others.  Through the teaching placements I will benefit from being paired with teachers with more experience, and through the feedback of those teachers, the other students in the Bachelor of Education program, and the professors I will be provided with the feedback and coaching needed to achieve my dreams.

The year apart from my husband will be a challenge but it will also allow me to be more independent.  Living so far away from our friends and family has caused us to become overly interdependent and I feel as though in some ways we have stopped nurturing the things about ourselves that make us who we are as individuals.  I value our closeness, but I think our closeness has also at times meant that we have shut others out.  The time apart will allow us to rediscover ourselves, and to value the times during that year when we will reconnect for a short period of time.  We will be forced to find new ways to nurture our relationship.  Being without each other will also force me to be more open towards people around me therefore allowing me the valuable opportunity to further develop my interpersonal skills.  Learning to be more approachable will only benefit me as a leader.

In addition to furthering my professional development through the Bachelor of Education program, I also plan to become involved in the community by participating in a program where I can be a mentor for a young girl or a young woman through volunteer work.  In the community that I will be living, I plan to approach the women’s shelter and see if there is an opportunity for me to volunteer in the capacity of a tutor.  I believe that education is a stepping stone for many of these women and their children to building a better life and I would like to be a part of helping them to build their confidence and believe that they can achieve what they set their minds to.  Even those experiencing some of the darkest moments of their lives deserve to have dreams of something better.  I believe that in pursuing this type of volunteer opportunity I would be staying true to my own personal vision statement by sharing knowledge with others and supporting them in a manner that helps them to improve upon their own skills.

Sometimes a person is their own biggest stumbling block to being successful or to being a great leader.  We become too comfortable in the familiar and therefore fail to push our limits to discover what we are truly capable of accomplishing.  When we acknowledge our strengths without ignoring our weaknesses we open ourselves to the opportunity for growth as an individual.  When we acknowledge our fears and face the perceived obstacles that we encounter we will break free of the barriers that block us from being successful.  When we can move forward with the confidence that we can overcome obstacles that we may encounter, then we have begun to travel on the road that will help us to discover the great leader that lives within us.

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Me as a Team Player

Working as part of a team to complete a project in an online course has been frustrating at times, but has also been a valuable learning experience that has provided me with opportunities for personal growth and development.  Through my interactions with others I learned a lot about myself and about how I communicate with others.  At times I experienced a feeling of frustration which I believe was a result of the members of the group approaching tasks from a different perspective that may have been a result of a
significant difference in our ages and the life experiences that we brought to
the tasks.  This required me to accept that I needed to approach tasks differently so that other members of the team were able to more completely embrace the learning experience.  At times, it was necessary for me to step back in an attempt to let someone else direct the pace of the process or discussions.

I have remained committed to the success the team by remaining engaged in the team assignments by actively participating in discussions on the boards and during our weekly meetings.  During our first assignment I consistently posted on the boards providing ideas and building upon the ideas of others, while helping to ensure that the team continued to move forward as we progressed through the assignment.  When we received constructive criticism on aspects of the assignment that could be improved, I accepted the criticism as a positive motivator for change and worked collaboratively with others to respond by making the changes necessary for improvement.

During the second assignment I have strived to apply knowledge obtained during the course to my interactions with others on my team.  I have allowed others the opportunity to contribute their ideas while asking questions to further develop the idea so it could be understood and we could explore the feasibility of the ideas.  I have attended each online meeting that we have held even though it has required me to get out of bed before 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning.  Following these meetings I have posted transcripts that allow me and others to refer back to the discussions we have had.  I have strived to let go of the attempt to control the flow of things and to be more open to the input of others.  I have learned that others in my group desire ongoing encouragement throughout a task and in response I have attempted to provide them with the motivation that they required.  When aspects of the task have been assigned to me I have met the corresponding deadlines that have been established by the group.

I am continuing to work towards improving several aspects of my ability to collaboratively work within a team.  The first of these is my understanding and empathy in regards to the needs of others.  I find it frustrating when meeting times are previously agreed on and then others fail to honour that time commitment.  It is necessary for me to remember that everyone has other obligations in life outside of the commitment to the team.  I am also continuing to work towards allowing others to take on a greater leadership role in tasks that highlight their individual strengths or that allow them to further develop their skills, and to not be critical of the methods used.  Lastly I am continuing to work to identify the strengths of others and to help them build on these strengths.

To ensure that I am an active and productive team member in the future I will engage in active listening and ask questions to clarify what is being said.  I will be flexible in trying to understand that the time commitments of others may change in response to other aspects of their lives.  When working in a team environment, I will continue to engage in the exchange of ideas with others in a respectful manner that values the input of others. I will step up and promote my own ideas when necessary so that if my ideas are worthy they will not be overshadowed by others who may be more vocal than I am.  As a member of a team, I will strive to recognize the strengths of all team members including myself and to build upon those strengths.  Finally, I will actively seek out opportunities that allow me to gain skills that benefit the environment that I work in.

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Leadership from the Inside Out

To truly understand myself as a leader, I must first understand who I am as a person. By taking the time to reflect on myself it gives me a greater understanding of how I interact with other people and the world around me.

For example, when completing the survey on emotional intelligence I discovered two areas which I need to increase my own awareness. I often feel awkward in social situations and I am not the type of person who is going to approach individuals that I do not know or invite myself in to a conversation. Additionally I often fail to pick up on the subtle cues that others may be giving that would provide me with insight into their wants or needs. As a leader it is important to be comfortable with interacting with others and to possess the ability to pick up on not only what others are saying, but what they are not saying. I have always been rather introverted and I must seek opportunities that will challenge me to step outside of my comfort zone and interact with people socially. The more interaction I have with people the more experience I will get in picking up the subtle cues that others give off.

I also discovered that I have an extremely low trust of others. I realize that the level to which we trust others is often a result of past experiences, and I must remain aware of my potential to be too distrusting. When a person is distrusting of others it means they often expect the worst from others, and this may actually result in my focusing on things that would support my desire to not trust rather than to remain open to more positive experiences. This lack of trust at times manufactures itself in the form of control issues and my inability to give up control of tasks to others. As a leader, it is important that I be able to relinquish control to others as needed and to allow others the freedom that they require to complete those tasks without being a micro-manager.

In the survey on procrastination, I had a very low score. As a leader I think it is good to be a task and deadline oriented person. Being able to complete tasks or to make decisions in a timely manner is vital to leading a productive team. However, I need to ensure that I am not so task oriented that I fail to be people oriented. I need to ensure that while progressing towards the goal that I recognize opportunities to highlight the ideas and contributions of team members while providing them with positive feedback and constructive criticism that ensures their continued commitment to the project. If I fail to also be people oriented while being task oriented I may not be fully engaging team members.

My attitude towards achievement is that successful people should be rewarded. People who work hard tend to be the people who enjoy success and they should be able to reap the benefit of their work. On a personal level knowing that success of achieving final outcomes often comes with rewards is sufficient, but as a leader, I need to recognize that members of my team may require additional motivation along the path to achieving those final outcomes. As such, it is my responsibility as a leader to recognize and meet the needs of the members of my team.

Through assessment of my leadership skills, my strengths and my weaknesses I have been able to recognize that by improving the gaps in my own skills that I will benefit not only myself, but the organization that I work for and the individuals I work with.

Being a good leader requires me to recognize the necessity to engage in continual reflection of myself to recognize opportunities for growth and development in response to changes in myself and in the dynamics of the organization or team environment, and to utilize those opportunities for personal and professional growth. Doing so will ensure that I do not become stagnated and that I instead remain a dynamic and effective leader.

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The Leader in Me

my symbol

There are many types of leaders in the world.  Some lead loudly and draw the attention of many.  I am not that type of leader.  You will not find me standing in front of thousands using a megaphone to be heard.  Instead you will find me standing amongst the group leading in a more companionable manner with my sleeves rolled up as I work alongside those that are following my directions.  If I am not willing to tackle a task myself, then I will not ask another person to tackle it for me.

My earliest memories of myself as a leader can be traced back to my involvement in Girl Guides of Canada where I began as a Brownie and continued in Guiding until I was a leader of my own unit of girls.  It is from these experiences that my leadership skills were born and nurtured and my perception of what a leader should be were formed.  In simplest terms I learned that leading is about guiding a person along the way to meeting his/her goals in a manner that allows that individual to experience personal growth.

As a leader it is my responsibility to provide team members with clearly defined goals and the steps required to achieve those goals.  If I want someone to climb the tallest tree they will have more success at achieving the task if I provide them with the ladder to get there and if I am willing to hold the ladder for them while providing them with the support and encouragement that they require as they progress to the top.  Being a leader is about recognizing the strengths of each member of the team and building upon those strengths.  It is about giving credit where credit is due and recognizing the contributions that each member of the team has made in achieving the goal rather than taking all the accolades for myself.

Every member of a team must bring something to the table that makes that team better equipped for facing the challenges that they may encounter along the way.  The leader is an integral member of the team.  My skill set as a leader is expansive and shaped by my personal experiences.  Living abroad in a foreign country has allowed me to gain valuable firsthand experience with working with people of varied cultural backgrounds and beliefs and has resulted in a greater understanding of myself and others.  It has also provided me with the opportunity to improve my interpersonal communication skills and to recognize that body language and tone often influence the message more than the words that are used to convey it.  I recognize that the concept of respect is different across various cultures and that awareness of cultural expectations improves communication.

I am skilled at analysing information that I have received and then organizing that information into a useable format that is easy for others to understand.  I recognize that despite careful planning unexpected circumstances may present themselves and I am capable of quickly and spontaneously engaging in creative problem solving and to provide ideas and solutions while adapting the plans to reflect the change in circumstances.

In my interactions with others I am both tough and fair.  I expect each member of my team to contribute to their full potential and to take responsibility for his or her own actions.  In the process I will do what I can to support each team member in reaching his or her potential, and will provide feedback that recognizes individual strengths while pinpointing areas for improvement while providing suggestions on how to achieve that improvement. As a leader I also recognize that there are times when decisions must be made quickly in a reactive manner and then reflected on later.  If I have made the wrong decision then I am not afraid to accept responsibility for that decision and to analyze my own actions to determine what other courses of action could be taken if facing a similar situation in the future.

Those that work with me can expect me to be loyal and dedicated to the organization.  I strive to improve myself through educational opportunities that increase my own knowledge and increase my versatility within the workplace, and to then share that knowledge with my co-workers.

Being a leader requires quickness in thought and the ability to take action.  A great leader does not merely lead the team, but is a member of the team and provides direction from within the ranks.

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