My STEP signature project was to compete with Team USA in the World University games in Gwangju, South Korea this past summer. I am currently on the Ohio State Pistol Team and have been training for several years to have this opportunity, to not only compete for the United States but also to broaden my leadership skills.
There were several changes that occurred while completing my STEP signature project. I realized many things about who I was as a leader, who I want to be as a leader, and who I want to be as a person. The largest transformation that occurred was with what I see as a leader and consequently what I want to be as a leader. I have been in several leadership positions before, but often they are very controlled in what I could do. This led me to become very stagnant in what I viewed as a leader.
There are many things that I learned about being a leader that has transformed how I see leaders, and want to be as a leader. The first is that a leader is not a part-time job; it is something you are constantly doing. The second is that as a leader you have to ignore some of your own feelings in order to better support those around you. Finally, I learned that a leader can never be perfect, even given years of training and practice you will always make a mistake.
My first experience that led to me recognizing that a leader is not a part-time job; it is something you are constantly doing happened in the beginning of my trip. After my parents dropped me off in the Washington International Airport, and several hours of arguing, I found out that the airline was not going to let me on my flight for a list of reasons revolving around lack of understanding from the employees. I realized that my team would be competing in only a few days and I needed to be there. After several phone calls with my coach, airline companies, and the head director of Team USA travel for this event, I was able to get on a flight. Aside from this event I witnessed my coach and the director work together with me to find me a last minute way to get to my competition. I saw my coach answering emails and calls between his own flights, the director was on vacation at a funeral taking my calls and making connections to get on other flights. I had never seen two leaders completely disregard what they were doing to help me; this made me realize that leaders are constantly working—even on their vacations and breaks.
Another experience I had that showed me that as a leader you have to ignore some of your own feelings to better support those around you happened on my fourth day in South Korea. I entered my competition alongside many of the best competitors in the world—many of which had already been to the Olympics. I ended my day far below my average, it had taken me years to get to this competition and in the matter of two hours it was over and I felt that I had not performed to my abilities. My immediate reaction, and one I had often done before, was to take personal time to feel better and then come back to my team. The problem with this was that there were other competitions occurring shortly after my event. I recognized that as a leader you can’t let your personal issues compromise the support for those around you. I decided that I had to change my previous reaction, walking away from my team for several hours was not an option. I forced myself to go encourage my teammates, which ended up being an amazing decision. This decision and situation showed me that even though I can be upset, a leader will always be there for others.
The last experience that I had that made me realize that even after practice, training, and experience you can always make a mistake or encounter unexpected events occurred on my flight home. Our team arrived very early to the airport, due to unknown timings for when gates would open our team had a very short time between gates opening and boarding our flight. Our coach had planned for the potential problems with the gates, but did not account for security holding our weapons from us until they were checked several times. I had to stay with my coach as our time slowly diminished from when our flight would take off. The main problem became with the work our coach had delegated was done incorrectly causing the security to stop and try to validate our paperwork. In the end my coach and I barely made our flight, but more importantly I learned that perfection is unattainable. Had my coach not delegated the responsibility he may have avoided this problem, but I realized at what cost would this have happened? He may have missed another issue, or supporting a teammate about to take her last shot. Leaders cannot be perfect, all they can do is try their best and when something goes wrong do everything in their power to fix it.
This change in how I view leadership is something that will hopefully be carried with me for the rest of my life. My personal and professional goals are to one day own a consulting business for Industrial Engineering. In order to own and run my own business it is crucial that I am able to be a proficient leader. This trip has given me knowledge about being a leader, and what it means to be a leader, that has transformed how I view leadership. I plan to be able to capitalize on this when I eventually am in charge of other people in my future. Leadership is something that cannot be found overnight, but instead grows and STEP has offered me an opportunity for personal growth that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.