Learning Leadership

            Working for the 1girl program at Champion Middle School has been one of the most humbling, eye opening, and educational opportunities of my life. 1girl is a program built to empower young women to aspire to become young leaders in society. By holding a facilitator position within this organization, I have acquired so many leadership skills myself. I never realized how many leadership skills I lacked until I was holding an administrative position this semester. My role within this organization is to assist in the creation of the curriculum while leading on site at Champion Middle School where I oversee three other facilitators. Entering into my second year at Champion, it was easy for me to desire to take the reigns from the new facilitators coming in and want to run the program the way I had been doing it the year before. I was not open to many of their ideas and opinions and I felt as if I knew all of the answers. It was really difficult to make the transition from being the only facilitator to an administrator. My role now was to do the background work so the facilitators could run the program smoothly and if they ever had questions or concerns they could consult with me. I was to assist the new facilitators and allow them to experience and fall in love with this program the way that I had the year before. But I struggled with this. When they came to me with ideas I was quick to turn them down, feeling as if I knew what was best for the girls and they should just follow my lead… I was the one in charge right?! But thank god that my boss stepped in or I would have failed, not only myself, but also, the facilitators, the program and most importantly the girls at Champion! Through some conversations, she helped me to realize the irony of me leading a group of young women to be leaders while I was struggling with what being a leader looked like! This helped me to realize how my lack of leadership skills could have a large affect on my girls and the program itself. We talked through some options on how to be a good leader and what it takes. We discussed many things like trusting the facilitators and allowing them to try out different techniques with the program. When I presented this new approach to the facilitators at my site, they were super excited. From this experience I really learned how to be an open and inclusive leader. I learned the importance of listening to other’s views and ideas and also that sometimes it is more beneficial to take a back seat and give the floor to others. We won’t have all the best ideas, even if we believe we do, and we definitely will not have all the right answers every time. The beauty of having a diverse team is the access that you have to different views, although if you don’t even consider these alternative options you will truly miss out on the opportunity to be the best! Learning this was amazing and I am so thankful to be a part of a department that truly cares about my growth and achievements and will do whatever it takes to help me reach them. The Department of Social Change not only benefited me in this area but also benefited my middle school girls. By allowing me to create a curriculum out of this lesson that I learned at the age of 20, the girls at Champion Middle School received a lesson in learning how to be a leader at the age of 12. Oh how I wish I had the opportunity to learn these lessons at their age! So thankful for this program!

Learning to Listen

We recently had a meeting for work that was all about how to listen effectively. At the time I didn’t understand the importance, but while working with the middle school girls in the community, I have realized that not only do the girls struggle with listening when someone is speaking, but so do I. All my life I thought I was a great listener and I also thought I gave the best advice! I soon realized that when I’m listening I don’t actually understand what is being said. When someone is having a conversation with me I may hear one word that sends my mind to focus on other topics that may relate to what is being said.  While working with the girls, I have recognized that many of them struggle with this as well. When we ask the girls a question it is difficult for them to understand what we are asking and many times they go off on a rant that is not relevant to the question that was asked. They may associate one word that we say with a scenario or story and that is how they answer. It is then hard to redirect the conversation because from there, other girls find stories that are similar to the first and they all want to share. Many times the girls are so excited about their own answers and making sure their hand is seen that they don’t even listen to the other girl’s views on the topic. I am the same way! So how do you listen not just to formulate a good response but, to understand what is being said? Many times when people come to us with their problems we tend to reply with our own personal stories that may relate to their situation in some way, but is that really what they wanted to hear? Probably not.

There is a time to speak and a time to listen. When you work on listening more than speaking you can find out so much about a person. But how do you contribute to the conversation if all your doing is listening? By asking good questions of course! When we make our girls think about their answers it opens their minds to understand what they are saying at a more complex level. When the girls do go off on rants that are far off topic we can steer them back by asking the other girls questions like how does her story relate to leadership? This helps to get the girls thinking rather that us just giving them the answer ourselves. It has been a difficult concept to grasp, and if it is hard for me to grasp it at the age of nineteen how can I expect these young girls to catch on? Continuing to ask them questions about why they think listening is important and asking them how they think they can become better listeners is a great place to start. Facilitating listening lessons where the girls present topics and then the other girls ask them questions about their presentations is a great way to start. Teaching the girls at a young age how to listen will be extremely beneficial in their classes and within the relationships that they build moving forward in life.