Sujay Syal, a student from the LaunchX 2020 Entrepreneurship Program, has learned a lot from the many leadership positions he has had throughout middle and high school. From leading a Boy Scout troop, running an international non-profit, being an officer in his DECA chapter, and creating his own startup (Ambicove) through LaunchX, Sujay has been a lot. In the midst of some of the toughest situations, he has consistently found ways of keeping his teams motivated and by his side, even when the odds could be stacked against them. He knows that this is just the beginning of his journey, though recognizes he has learned a lot and wants to share some of his tips on how to help students his age inspire each other.
Leadership is hard. Very hard. Whether you have one year or 20 years of experience working with a team, everyone is bound to come across roadblocks. Some of these are in our control, others are not, and the best leaders are the ones who are able to help their teams navigate through both. We hear the definition of leadership everywhere, “Leadership is the act of setting shared goals and inspiring/motivating people to work together towards achieving them”. However when we look at the best leaders in history, world-famous figures like Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, we see that they had an element that differentiated them from the rest. Something that made leadership effortless because it was born inside of them. Today I’d like to share some patterns and techniques I have learned through various situations where I was in leadership roles. They have proven to be very helpful in allowing me to keep my teams executing at their best. Here are some ways to inspire your teams to believe in something that sometimes seems unattainable; I call it the art of leadership through perseverance.
Tip 1: Avail opportunities by leaving your comfort zone, and have no expectations.
One must understand how to create a team before trying to inspire one. Although you all may have different skill sets, opinions, and backgrounds, the ultimate goal is to leverage everyone’s talents in order to be as cohesive as possible. Anyone who wants to take on a leadership position must be able to cope with fear. But why do we have fear when leading a team in the first place? Your answer is one word: expectations. Before you enter a new working environment, the most important thing is to work on clearing your mind of any expectations that you have from previous experiences. For those of you who like a more logical explanation than an emotional one, think of it like this :-) Fear is simply your imagination of a worst-case scenario, and has absolutely no factual correlation to the future. So do yourself and your team a favor, get rid of those expectations and you will have the courage to leave your comfort zone. Working on this will build your confidence, and will also teach you how to avail big opportunities which may only come once. This process is called self-reflection, as you are deeply thinking about how to get rid of fear and become an adaptable individual.
Tip 2: Believe in yourself and your team more than you think you do.
Props to my biggest role model, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for coming up with this amazing statement! There are many different ways to interpret this saying, and I am going to share my own. As leaders, we subconsciously measure our belief in ourselves based on comparisons to others. We analyze the pasts of those with similar interests, years of experience, IQ, and EQ, to build a prediction of what will happen to us. I do not disagree with being realistic and looking into the feasibility of an idea. However, in most cases, these patterns evolve into analysis paralysis, something I personally had to learn to work around. Connecting back to the title of this blog, those who persevere and willingly step outside their box are only focused on comparing current results with their own pasts, rather than against others. Motivate your team by celebrating the small improvements and complimenting each other. If needed, live the persona of someone who you look up to if it helps you believe in your ideas more. Imagine yourself no different than people like Bill Gates, because at the end of the day we are all just humans with different skill sets and experiences. Here is a picture of my amazing LaunchX Summer team!
Tip 3: Train your mind to think one step ahead, so you lead when your team runs into roadblocks.
This is probably one of the most intuitive things for any leader to learn, however, it is overlooked most of the time. Instead of having the standard mentality of, “As a leader, I will help empower my team to fight roadblocks that come our way”, think of ways to prevent setbacks in the first place. Oftentimes, in order to think ahead, you may need to distance yourself from the problem or take a step back from the problem at hand. This will help you think about the long term implications of the decisions that you decide to make. When discussing these ideas with your team, convince them to follow through with an idea that will be best in the long term. Another thing that you must try is challenging the assumptions your team makes. If all of the people you are working with are able to quickly make a huge decision without much deliberation or critical thought, the majority of the time there is a false assumption or the idea is very surface level. Challenge those assumptions, and explain your reasoning behind this. It is proven that leaders who demonstrate the ability to challenge assumptions and express ideas respectfully tend to be more successful in encouraging their team members to do the same. This brings us to our next topic, which is how to be an inspiring role model!
Tip 4: Be an Inspiring Role Model
This is hands down the most important section of this blog, so don’t miss this one! Connecting back to the intro of this blog, I mentioned how the greatest leaders were able to inspire others with ease. The biggest misconception about taking on a leadership role is that it is your job to influence others to achieve something. Sayings like “convince others” and “motivate others” support this claim. If we look carefully, we realize that all of these phrases are instructions on “actions” a leader must do to “influence” others. Even in the media, we associate leadership with the candidate who is the tallest, loudest, most emotional, and passionate when doing a speech. Here is a fun fact, the greatest leaders do not spend tons of time influencing others to support them! Crazy, right! In reality, they are such good leaders that people naturally gravitate to them by following their footsteps. Take for example Martin Luther King Jr., a man who made countless sacrifices during the civil rights movement. Did he do anything to others? Did his role model, Gandhi? No. Instead, these leaders set very clear goals for themselves and persevered through struggles along the way. This itself transformed them into huge role models and that inspired others around them to join their cause. My own interpretation of this is: “People do not inspire, convince, and change others. Actions do.” Regardless of how small or big the impact you are trying to make is, being genuine and showing self-motivation towards your own goals and values is all you really need to be a leader!
Tip 5: Learn when not to Lead
The job of a leader is to elevate others on the team. It is this simple in words, yet much more difficult to apply in a really difficult situation. This is primarily because most leaders tend to take on all of the pressure and responsibilities from hard times into their own hands. As a result, the diverse opinions of how to solve a specific problem are limited within a team. Diversity creates unity, one that allows team members to look at each other for support, motivation, and most importantly inspiration to strive for even bigger goals. The first step for a leader to cultivate a team that feels inspired to work with them is by providing them the opportunity to tackle major problems. In other words, a good leader must be able to “learn when not to lead”, and empower others by leveraging their individual strengths when faced with challenges. How can you improve your team when you don’t even give them the opportunity to be challenged? People cannot, and will not resonate with an environment where they feel as if they don’t have the freedom to take initiative for big decisions. The moment an individual feels trusted and valued in a team is the same moment their confidence in their abilities and their ideas will prosper. This confidence is what will solidify a team through hardship and will allow them to persevere. Next time you are faced with any team challenge, reflect and ask yourself the question “Am I really weakening or strengthening my team by leading right now?”
Every leader is working on these 5 things. I personally have a long way to improve on all of them as a matter of fact. Thank you LaunchX for providing me the opportunity to write a blog post to share these lessons, as this really helped me reflect on my leadership journey. If you are a LaunchX student or anyone who strives to learn more about leadership and the entrepreneurial process, please reach out to me on Linkedin or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you found this blog helpful and are able use these tips to create a huge impact wherever you can!