Reflection on Leadership

During the past year, I have served as the chair of the PhD student council at Uppsala University’s faculty of science and technology. I applied for the chair position mostly because I wanted to learn about how the university functions. I will admit that the application was also a strategic move since it looks nice on the CV to have had a position with many responsibilities. Not unexpectedly, besides learning about the organisation of the university, I have come to learn a lot about myself as well. This blog post is (an incomplete) reflection and a summary of the things I have learned as chair of the doctoral council (TNDR, in short).

  • It is good practice to start the first meeting by setting expectations. Formulate and communicate what is expected from your colleagues. Avoid taking things for granted, even things that seem obvious to you. For example, if punctuality is important, then it is essential to communicate to your colleagues what they are expected to do if they cannot attend a meeting or run late.
  • Share your responsibilities. This is difficult for me since I am a control freak; I have difficulty trusting people to uphold my high standards. My advice to my fellow control-freaks is to learn to let go. Start small, for example, by delegating a few tasks that you care less about to others. Make a conscious decision to trust people because they can do the job as good as or even better than you can. Make a conscious decision to be silent and let other people be in charge/in the spotlight because you can learn from them as well.  
  • You cannot make everybody happy. A position with many responsibilities means that many people will rely on you. Making difficult comprises is part of the job; no matter how much you think you have thought of every detail, you will still miss something. Accepting the fact that you will sometimes let people down is a big step towards a more mature leadership.
  • Like the old saying goes: “To know oneself is the beginning of wisdom”. You get far by just recognising your strengths and weaknesses. Write down what they are and how you plan to work on your shortcomings next time you are in a similar position.
  • I have learned that in leading and supporting others, you need to get a holistic perspective of your colleagues. Essentially, all of us come with a bag full of experiences, emotions, opinions and so on that affect who we are. Beyond this, we are affected by the well-being of our mind and body and what goes on in our environment. All these factors affect us and our ability to work. For some people, it is very apparent that something is affecting them, while for others, it is harder to see. Remind yourself to have compassion. If your gut feelings tell you something is amiss with your colleague, it probably is. Show your colleagues you are there for them if they want to talk.
  • One of the most challenging tasks in work is how to set boundaries for workspace friendships. I tend to get emotionally involved with people instead of maintaining a friendly relationship. And the key here is friendly because being friendly and being friends are two very different things. My advice to someone with similar tendencies is to stay focused on the goals of your work and try not to let your relationship with people hinder your performance. But I have to admit that the friend-colleague relationship is a tricky one.  
  • The last point of advice has nothing to do with leadership or relationship. It is a gentle reminder to you and myself to always write when you feel inspired. Don’t wait until tomorrow; it might be too late by then.

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