Photo source (above): Vinoth Chandar | Flickr
We all have different definitions of what a leader is. Is it someone who has a title? Someone who influences a group of people? Someone who is domineering and takes charge of things?
From scoring 10As in her SPM examination to being accepted into Harvard University in December last year, Eleasha Chew has definitely accomplished a lot.
The 20-year-old from Penang is currently finishing her International Baccalaureate (IB) course in Taylor’s College Sri Hartamas and will soon leave for Harvard to fulfil her dreams.
“Harvard has always been my childhood dream. My love for the institution only grew over the years, especially when I discovered that ingrained in its mission statement, is the idea that education should be used as a platform to make a difference in our world. I could not agree more,” Chew says.
As everyone has varied perceptions on leadership, Chew shares her views and how she has put her leadership skills into action.
What is an ideal leader to you?
A leader is someone who appreciates and values his or her team members. In order to value team members, the leader must be willing to listen to them.
A leader must also have an attitude of humility. Being a leader does not necessarily mean you know everything. A leader has to be able to learn from others as they could gain more insight from their team members.
Positivity definitely has to be in a leader’s DNA. No one wants to work with someone who is constantly leading the team with pessimism.
When there is positivity, the team will have a clear direction. The team members are willing to work together as tensions don’t flare up as much and communication becomes clearer with an optimistic environment.
Are there any activities or projects you have been involved in? Have you applied any leadership skills while running these activities?
In form 4, I was involved in the South-East Asia Youth Leadership Programme (SEAYLP).
I was chosen along with four other students to go to the United States and develop skills like leadership, civic responsibility, and civic engagement.
When the five of us came back to Malaysia, we were involved in a Mangrove Conservation Project at Kuala Gula Wetlands in collaboration with Malaysia’s Global Environmental Centre. It was part of our SEAYLP project in 2012.
In 2013, I was in the committee to organise a project called the US-Malaysia Young Leaders Summit Conference as it was another part of our programme. We collaborated with Generasi Gemilang, a NGO.
Apart from that, I was also the project manager for a service trip to Camp Beng Mealea in Cambodia.
Other IB students were also involved in this camp as it was part of our course in college. We went to the camp along with four lecturers who supervised us.
In order to go for this service trip, we had to raise funds which I was mainly in charge of. We held a fundraiser in college where there were bake sales and a pie-a-teacher game.
After the fundraiser, we planted trees, did roof tiling and brick laying for the schools to improve the teachers’ accommodation at the camp. We also taught English in the schools.
So what have you learnt from all these experiences?
When trying to make a difference in a community, I learnt the importance of first taking time to understand and appreciate the context of their community instead of ignorantly imposing on them what I think is best for them.
From the Summit conference, I learnt the importance of servant leadership. To be a good leader is to first learn how to serve others. It was truly a humbling experience.
Lastly, what is some advice you can give to our young readers to help them develop leadership qualities?
You must be able to stretch yourself and step out of your comfort zone. You’ll never know what you can discover about yourself. For example, you can stretch yourself in terms of communication. Try public speaking more often. It will boost your courage especially in front of people and thus enhance your leadership skills. You would never know how good you are until you try. Barack Obama says,
“It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realise your true potential.”
2. Keep learning
Another point is to have intellectual curiosity. Push yourself to love learning. The more you learn, the more you grow. As a leader, you should broaden your knowledge in order to lead your team members well. Pick up new things like learning more about the arts or discovering new scientific findings that you have never known before. It is always exciting to learn something new each time.
3. Listen and understand
Listening to opinions also helps you to grow as a leader. When it comes to projects, train yourself to accept constructive feedback. Listen effectively because it does groom you to be a better leader. For instance, when working with difficult people, have the heart to love and understand them. Don’t just ignore them or rub salt into their wounds. Be willing to acknowledge their opinions and see how you can work around them. This will determine what kind of leader you are and how well you can handle such people.
Encouragement can really lift someone’s spirit. Encouraging your team members helps you manage the team better. Your team members would be able to cooperate better and they would have a deeper respect for you. Simple gestures like a compliment or a thank you note are great to keep your team going. Having a leader that would continuously cheer their team on can really push the team to go further.
5. Have a journal
Journaling helps you to grow more as a leader because it makes you a thoughtful, reflective and mature person. By consciously writing about your experiences, you will learn from them – especially from your mistakes. It does wonders to clear up your thought process and this is very vital for a leader considering that you are responsible for providing your team with direction. By journaling, you would also be able to see your own personal progress; whether you have become a better person or not.
Originally posted online on 17 March, 2013.