When I first stepped into the leadership role, I was terrified. There seemed to be so much I didn't know how to do, so much to do...it was overwhelming.
Whenever I looked at my fellow leaders, it was hard not to feel inferior. They made it look so easy! But, as I came to find, the ease is something of an illusion brought on by a few skills that are essential in making anyone a good and effective leader.
1. Patience: Few skills are quite as important as patience. This is just a general rule for life. When it comes to leadership, however, it takes on completely new roles. Leaders are often faced with ridiculous situations. I cannot tell you how hard it has been sometimes to bite my tongue and avoid a shouting match. But being patient leads to far less discord and sometimes can lead to an improved relationship or group dynamic. Being patient is possibly the most important skill from my time as a LGBTQA leader.
2. Listening Skills: Patience is nothing without the ability to listen and listen properly. Not the glassy eyed, nodding sort of listening you might do in a boring class or during a dull family dinner. Real listening. Engaged, attentive, and responsive. People are going to come to you with problems, ideas, and concerns. Sometimes these conversations require your input, many times they don't. People will look up to you as a leader. Listening to them, particularly when they're upset, can make all the difference to them and to your group.
3. Understanding: Leaders come up against all sorts of unpleasant opposition. This is especially true in the LGBTQA community where we often have trouble understanding each other, let alone getting others to understand us. Sometimes people's opinions and words will hurt, even make you mad; but that's where understanding can come in.
Mind you, I'm not talking about taking abuse. You should never have to do that.
But leaders often bridge the gap between dissenting worldviews and in order to do that you have to be willing to try and understand the opposition even if you don't agree. In this way, you have a hope of possibly finding common ground that is often sorely needed.
4. Sense of Humor: Leadership is stressful. Sometimes the only thing that saves a person from quitting outright is the ability to laugh at themselves. Cultivate this ability and you'll be better able to deal with stress and less likely to give up or blow up on your group.
5. Adaptivity: As a leader, you'll likely be thrown into situations (and in with people) you are not familiar with. Being able to adapt is crucial. Whether it's knowing the difference between approaching a meeting with your peers or a meeting with school administrators, being able to adapt makes all the difference in executing successful ideas. It can also help in diffusing conflicts if you can adapt to the personalities and needs of those involved.
6. Flexibility: As they say, stuff happens. The only guarantee I ever found as a student leader was that nothing ever went perfectly right. The speaker was late, the copier was broken, the fliers weren't ready on time. As a leader you are going to be the person people go to when these seemingly catastrophic events happen. If you can bend with it, go with the flow, you'll keep your group calm and better find a solution to the issue.
7. Creativity: Creative leaders often make the best leaders. They see potential in outrageous ideas and encourage their members to think outside the box. Creativity often leads to the most beneficial changes in policy, particularly in the LGBTQA community.
8. Organization: Disorganization is not an option when people are counting on you. Forgetting dates or events is not an option. You need to know what's going on and when it's happening -- even if it requires a planner or help. Which brings me to number 9.
9. Delegation: One person can't do it all. For your sanity (and the health of your group) delegation is key. Learn to shift some responsibility on to members of your group. Not only does this take stress off of you, but it helps future leaders realize their potential and develop these skills as well.
10. Kindness: As with Patience and Understanding, kindness is key. In the LGBTQA community you may come across people who need a kind word or action. Be prepared to give it because it can mean the world to the people who need it most.