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COMMENTARY: Leadership an essential skill

Leadership is an essential skill that helps individuals, businesses, and communities succeed. Leadership is the ability to inspire and amplify the skills and capabilities of all team members.

Leadership is an essential skill that helps individuals, businesses, and communities succeed. Leadership is the ability to inspire and amplify the skills and capabilities of all team members. The most important qualities of leadership include: communication, integrity, empathy, adaptability and resilience.

All great leaders have strong communication skills. Leaders must be able to clearly communicate goals, strategies, and instructions while being open to constructive feedback. Active listening helps foster understanding and trust within the team. When I coached “Jackrabbits” (cross country skiing for young children), it was pivotal for my projected ideas to be clear and concise as the group I worked with had a small attention span. I learned quickly I needed to provide clear and succinct instructions, otherwise, activities were more likely to fall into chaos.

Strong leaders must also exhibit strong ethics and integrity. Leadership sprouts from trust and leading with honesty, strong morals and transparency creates a strong bond of trust within the group. Leading by example is one of the most compelling methods of leadership. When leaders lead by example, team members will notice and oftentimes follow suit. In many cases, leading by example is oftentimes more effective than attempting to communicate through language. For example, I am the captain of my club basketball team and I purposely set the tone during practices and games by working hard, striving to improve, supporting those around me, and maintaining a positive attitude. A leader’s philosophy can have a pronounced effect on team morale and motivation to succeed.

Inspiring leaders also demonstrate empathy and compassion. Empathizing with the challenges and concerns of the team serves to create a bond of trust and a feeling of security within the group. This permits members to feel more comfortable which consequently results in more open and clear discussions within the group. Furthermore, by recognizing the needs and concerns of the team, strong relationships of trust and loyalty will be created during the group. Team members are more likely to strive for success when they feel their work and opinions matter and when they feel leaders care about their well-being.

Effective leaders display resilience and adaptability. Being a leader is by no means easy and having the mental capability to withstand challenges will foster success for the entire team. Leaders must be able to calmly morph and adapt to changing plans and unexpected obstacles. Rather than focus on the negative aspects of such situations, excellent leaders look for paths through the obstacles and look for new, unanticipated opportunities. For instance, when I coached Grade 8 volleyball, I had minimal coaching experience. When drills and game plans failed, I was forced to think on the spot to develop alternate strategies to install confidence and keep the interest of my players. Similarly, when competing in basketball games, I maintained belief in our skills and ability regardless of the situation. This resilient attitude, combined with trust, honest evaluation of what we needed to do better and our ability to adapt our strategies helped us win many games. I believe many of the skills learned in sport can be applied to one’s personal life as well as their academic and professional careers.

While leadership is a crucial skill in our world, leadership can be fraught with challenges including inflexible mindsets, interpersonal conflict, and team motivation.

Inflexible mindsets can diminish the powers of otherwise great leaders. Inflexible mindset means resisting change even when it may be in the team’s favour. Occasionally, leaders who become comfortable with the status quo or assume they know best will resist change proposed by team members. Leaders must deal with this challenge by being self-aware and by fostering the discussion of proposals from all team members even when it may contradict their own ideals and beliefs.

Conflicts are unavoidable in any team, workplace or organization. Managing and minimizing those conflicts can be incredibly strenuous for even the best leaders. Conflicts are best resolved when individuals can speak their mind and come to a shared consensus and path forward. Thus, it is critical leaders promote open dialogue and encourage a wide diversity of perspectives. Compromise may be necessary in some case scenarios but it’s best if the conflict can be resolved before it reaches boiling point. Moreover, leaders and team members should prohibit personal criticism and instead focus on mechanisms required to increase performance. I have found this approach combined with focusing on individual strengths rather than weaknesses can play a key role in minimizing conflict with family, friends, teammates, and my academic cohort.

Finally, excellent leaders are able to inspire and motivate their team. Without motivation, productivity and efficiency will plummet. Leaders can use several strategies to inspire their team. For example, recognizing individual's achievements can be a powerful motivator.

Recognition is the antithesis of criticism, and is much more effective because individuals will usually work extra hard to receive the same recognition again. Furthermore, providing feedback and offering opportunities for growth also have profound effects on team members' inspiration.

I have participated in numerous activities that have helped develop my leadership skills and leadership style. For example, I have spent many hours coaching and refereeing youth sports, mainly basketball, volleyball and cross-country skiing. During my time coaching cross-country skiing, I taught a group of five-year olds for one hour a week, from December 2020 through April 2021. I taught the athletes proper polling, turning and stopping techniques through a combination of drills and games to make the activities exciting, engaging and fun. Through coaching, I learned how to hold a group's attention to achieve goals. Coaching cross-country skiing taught me the value of leading by example, and using positive encouragement, empathy and humour to ensure success. In addition to coaching cross-country skiing, I coached and refereed middle-school volleyball from the fall of 2021. I generally coached twice a week and during that time I led the team practices, with the responsibility of teaching the kids how to receive, pass, serve and spike a volleyball, as well as how to work together as a team. In addition to teaching kids necessary skills for volleyball, I also demonstrated the value of a positive, flexible mindset and hard work through both teaching and leading by example. During my time refereeing, I generally worked alone and I had to judge and make calls without the help of another referee. Thus, the refereeing required strong leadership skills such as adaptation and decisiveness in order to ensure the games ran smoothly.

Overall, I have a quiet leadership style. I lead by example, maintain a positive attitude, and work hard to help my academic and sports-related team members succeed. I am still learning how to improve my leadership skills and how to hold team members accountable while maintaining their trust. In my opinion, leadership is a skill that is learned through trial and error, self-awareness, and watching our leaders in the community. time and dedication I believe that regardless of one's position in life, everyone has the capability to lead.

Eli Whittington is a Grade 12 student at Canmore Collegiate High School and is attending the University of Calgary next year. The Bertram Dyck Bursary was created by the Town of Canmore to honour his leadership in the community. Dyck served as mayor from 1992-98 and as Town CAO from 2001-05. The leadership bursary is awarded annually to a Canmore Grade 12 graduating student.

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