Today was a very interesting day of class, we had a guest speaker named A.J. Edwards who worked with Northwestern Utilities Company. He came in during the financial crisis in 2008 to make a difference within his team and in 2011 became the Chief Financial Officer; his responsibilities consisted of wiring funds and managing money.
Some things about A.J. are that he was, like the majority of us, petrified of public speaking in high school and that he used to be recorded during a presentation which would be played back and critiqued by his peers. Seems extreme, so now I don’t think I can complain about public speaking at my school. He is currently starting his third career and is in his twenty-fifth year of investing into Cornell University.
His story is of being at a firm where he deals with clients and managing their money which could be for a variety of things such as retirement, college etc. So these are very sensitive and important matters to the clients; he had to learn to develop skills to act in that environment. Although he dealt with many seniors and higher in his corp. That did not make him any less of a leader. A.J. has a masters degree in mathematics but he feels that is still easier than learning to be a leader. There is no formula to being a leader.
His advice to us was always to think of our clients as individuals. The first step is knowing yourself, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, a talker or a listener, calm or reactionary. And whether we are able to recognize what we are. "I" should rarely be used by a leader, it shows that one thinks that they are far more important than the organization they represent. It sends the message that your team is not as important even though they do the majority of the work. It does not take to demoralize your staff, so a leader should give recognition to their team members. An example of this given by A.J. was that at the end of a letter or presentation he would add the team member's name as well as include a picture, which is something small but it makes a world of a difference and even puts a smile on their face.
Interaction before the leader and their followers are very important, communication is key and the staff will notice everything that their boss does. Attire for example is very important, if you do not set an example for the image of your organization no one else will do the same. Because culture is created by action, not words, and whenever one is doing something they should use the "front page test" which is to not do anything they would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Constantly question, it is the job of the leader to be asking themselves what their team's biggest challenge might be and what they can do to make it better.
It is a lot easier to fall into the box while texting or emailing, which is only keeping your own values in mind when doing anything, this is because when we communicate via technology we are not face to face, so it becomes easy to come off as angry or upset. This is something anyone can take away -- especially today since our world is made up of communicating through these. These are things we are able to be mindful of in our every day lives. As A.J. said, "You do not have to have 'boss' on your business card to be a leader."
Being a leader is not about being a boss, it does not mean you know everything. It is also essential to recognize that there is no monopoly on good ideas. In his office whenever there is an investor coming for a meeting, before they do a run-through of everything in five minutes then spend an hour asking question starting from workers with least seniority to give workers experience at that level.
You are always being viewed as the subject matter expert so you need to know everything you are talking about. But that does not mean you have to act like you know everything, even as a leader it is perfectly fine to be able to say 'no.' it is one of the hardest things to do but sometimes the best decision to make is to do nothing. And it's okay to say 'I don't know.' Transparency is a stronger characteristic to show than attempt to show you know what you are doing when in fact you do not. And showing that transparency with your teammates so that you can build that community with them and foster relationship for better work.
Leaders are meant to let their team members do their job, they are meant to have confidence and humility, to always be humble and keep their pride in check. Although everybody is replaceable, one must remember that people will not remember what you say but they will always remember how you made them feel. Definitely a class everyone enjoyed since a lot of my peers are interested into going into corporate leadership.
After lunch at Trillium, it began pouring outside. I did have my umbrella with me but instead I went into the upper level of the dining hall because that is where the majority of my class was hanging out. We all walked to one of the prettiest libraries on campus, Uris Library. My classmates and I were working on our essays while various tour groups were coming in and snapping pictures (including us) before we were asked to leave since the library was closing. I walked back to my dorm with Andrew, a student from Taiwan who I was working on my essay with, he wanted to go play basketball while I worked on my essay some more. Which is what I did until dinner.
Afterwards I went to Mary Donlon with a group of my friends named Khirishana who is in my class, and a girl from her school named Tashnim who is studying Middle Eastern history. I also met her roommate Anika who is taking sustainable animal husbandry. We played 'heads up' which is basically Charades but on our phones, before I said I had to go since I needed to do some laundry as well as outline The Student Leadership Challenge for my essay I have due this weekend. One of my floormates named Bella bought a bunch of Chinese food so we indulged in that and just talked into the night.