Over this past Summer, I was able to complete a transformational project aided by the funds provided by the STEP program. The project I undertook was the Student Dean’s Leadership Academy which is a program through Ohio State that consists of five developmental classes focused on fostering leadership qualities in students. Along with the five classes, my cohort of 31 that I went through this with also took on our own internships which allowed us to put into practice the skills we had learned in our classes in professional work settings.
I initially took on this project primarily because these five classes would allow me to get closer to the 150-credit requirement to take the CPA exam as I am an accounting major. These classes were negotiations, crucial conversations, developing leaders through practical exercises, introduction to organizational coaching, and lastly, principled leadership. My secondary reasons were that I wanted an internship experience I could talk about on my resume for the following recruiting season my Junior year and lastly, I wanted to spend a summer away from home where I would have to take care of myself in terms of work and cooking. When I started, the actual leadership development aspect of the program did not interest me as much as these other goals. I am a pragmatic individual and I did not expect much out of this program as I didn’t think there was much to learn about myself that I didn’t already know. Fortunately, my thinking and view of myself and the program changed as the program kicked off and I took in the course materials.
When the Summer started, my peers and I were thrown into the courses, unsure of what we were about to learn. The difference this semester was that I wasn’t learning how to apply formulas from lecture videos or being asked to explain how a business generates revenues and subtracts costs. This time, every class provided a fresh and interesting take on personal development. These classes provided snippets of information each week guided by experienced professors passionate about their teachings and all they asked of us was to think, reflect, and practice what we were learning. This format allowed me to accept the material I was provided on my own terms instead of feeling like it was being forced onto me. The courses and the information they each taught varied significantly, but the general theme that was stressed was the same and that was to become a more open-minded person who could interact with others with greater care, thought, and reason.
There were multiple aspects of my character that changed after I completed the course, of the many experiences I had, the most meaningful ones came from my internship, negotiations, crucial conversations and developing leaders through practical exercises. To start off, for my internship, I worked a general role in a small local real estate firm in Columbus called Beacon Property Management. Over the duration of my work, I didn’t gain much in term of technical skills, but it was beneficial because I was able to test out what I learned from my classes. Previously, I had only worked part time for a family business and that was a very relaxed and casual setting and one concern I had coming into this was how I would handle dealing with a less lenient employer and strict deadlines. I was able to apply tactics I learned from my courses and an example of this is being confident enough to bring up concerns with my boss when I needed to. There were certain days I needed off and before this Summer, I always had trouble bringing up that I needed more time or had conflicts with people. It was a hurdle for me to talk with my boss because she was a person of authority, but I realized it was never actually a big deal. I learned through this job that people in organizations care about you and can be understanding even if you aren’t very familiar with them.
Negotiations was my least favorite classes from the ones I took this Summer because of the professor and the workload but it was the class where I learned the most skills in terms of the materials provided. I have never been great at negotiations or coming to compromises because I often place myself in a role where I either go with the flow or I lead a team without much discussion. In negotiations, I was able to learn how to communicate with others in a way that I could fight for what I wanted but in a civil and effective way, so the other party could agree as well. One of the tactics I learned about in this class related to haggling prices when buying goods that don’t have fixed prices. The general idea is that when buying goods, I should start off with a low price knowing that I will get a counter offer that is higher. I’ve been able to apply this skill multiple times now from buying a new car over the Summer to haggling ticket prices for football games. This class is important for becoming a good leader because there will always be instances where you need to be on the better end of a deal. Being able to speak up for what you want is an important skill that many people never develop.
Crucial Conversations was one of my favorite classes because it taught me how to diffuse sticky situations with people I’m in conflict with in a calm and reasonable manner. Before this class, when I was upset with someone, I would often go silent on them, choosing to ignore them instead of interacting with them because that was easier. This class allowed me to consider different perspectives on issues in a more logical way and to express that to others. I was able to use this class for my father and sister this Summer. The two of them were in disagreement about her relationship with her significant other and I urged them to consider one another’s perspectives. I was able to get my sister to understand that everything my dad was doing was because he cared for her and wanted what’s best for her. I helped my dad realize that my sister wanted to be treated as an adult. It’s not always easy to see other’s perspectives on issues because we are caught up in our pride and don’t want to be hurt. We fear being rejected because the other person might not understand and embarrassing ourselves. This skill of being able to form our feelings and thoughts into actual words is an essential quality great leaders hold.
Lastly, the class that taught me the most about people and why people do what they want was developing leaders through practical exercises. My favorite topic in this course was to consider the goals and objectives my peers have when working on a team. Once you can align your goals with other’s goals, you can more easily come to an effective solution. This was an important realization for me because in the past, whenever I would lead teams, I often only considered what I wanted and assumed that was the best course of action. I wouldn’t make a good effort to understand what others wanted and this would lead to conflicts such as inaction from others. I would then assume it was because a person was lazy or uninterested. I’ve been able to apply this to group projects I’m in by first asking what my teammates think is the best solution and then offering my thoughts and this has helped for more streamlined solutions for the projects I’m on. After this class, my thoughts of what makes a good leader changed from “someone who has a great idea for others to accomplish an objective” to instead, being a great leader means “being someone who can best serve the needs of their constituents”.
I didn’t realize how much I needed this program until after I went through it. It was a great opportunity to learn real skills that helped develop me as a person which I would never have been able to get normally through the usual curriculum of STEM that is prioritized in our education system. I think that most people brush over personal development because no one wants to think that they are significantly flawed. It may also be because we are never exposed to this type of education growing up. We all have aspects of our character that can use a little boost especially when it’s beneficial in becoming a great leader and good person. I’ll always be able to reflect on what I’ve learned through this experience not only because of the books I’ve bought but because I can talk with the professors and the people I met through my cohort. I’ll continue to practice what I’ve learned in this program and try my best to be a mindful thinker when working with others. I think this will allow me to succeed in any environment especially in the business world and in my relationships.