One of the great opportunities we have at Fuqua is to learn from leaders across a multitude of industries. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CEO of P&G, anthropologists turned successful venture capitalists—there are leaders who come to teach us about leadership development, leading through crises, building organizations, the list goes on and on. This exposure is, simply put, invaluable.
However, one thing I’ve come to learn over this past year at Fuqua is that this knowledge gathering is only half of the equation. Similar to curriculum blending case studies and lectures, we, as students, also get a chance to exercise leadership at Fuqua on a daily basis.
I’ve seen my own personal leadership style develop immensely over the past year, both as a result of the leaders I’ve listened to, but also in part due to the work I’ve been involved in completing. Prior to enrolling at Fuqua, my leadership principles were based on the core tenant that leadership is about synthesizing the voices you hear at the table around you, making sure to encourage the quietest, and then moving forward towards a common objective.
While I believe that this approach holds true, and I intend to carry it forward, I have also begun to think critically beyond what the action of leadership is and more of what the characteristics of good leaders are. Two characteristics that I have recognized as invaluable, and will strive to continue developing and exhibiting, are authenticity and grace.
The past year has brought about many challenges for the world, and exposed divisions deeper than we ever could have imagined across every imaginable line. From the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we saw the emergence of a national, even global, movement around racial justice in our country, echoing the cries of the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago.
Surrounding this critical (and overdue) national conversation, we found ourselves immersed in a global pandemic, unlike any we have seen in more than 100 years. We were reminded that none of these problems exist in a vacuum. But rather, we saw manifestations of systemic racial injustice in the disproportionate disease, burden and mortality rates in Black and brown communities. Over and over, we saw examples of injustice, division and anger.
While the scale of these moments was national and global, the impact was very much local. At Fuqua, I was so proud to see how our community rose to these distinct crises. From organizing virtual trivia sessions for our entire class, to organizing virtual runs in solidarity with Ahmaud, I saw my classmates step up for what they believed in, time and time again. I saw my classmates exhibit leadership qualities that I admired deeply, and was able to emulate these and identify important leadership qualities of my own.
In a world with an excess supply of injustice, quick judgment and anger, I see a desperate need for an inordinate supply of grace. Not only as a leader, but just as a community member, I had to take stock of my everyday interactions and choose to allow grace to guide my judgments.
Understanding the immense mental pressure our environment had placed upon us meant allowing for individuals to process in different ways. For me as an individual (reflective, I think, of a broader community sentiment), we demand much for ourselves and each other. This year has been an exercise in assuming positive intention and allowing for imperfect execution, and instead of assuming a posture of disappointment, assuming a posture of grace.
I asked my classmates to explain themselves when they had a perspective I fundamentally did not agree with. When interactions over email were tense and assignments were missed, I worked hard to not jump to conclusions, but to offer support instead. And the biggest challenge, when I failed to meet an expectation I had set for myself, be it grades or recruiting, I had to remind myself that it was OK. In learning to allow grace to enter my leadership characteristics, I am realizing grace doesn’t mean allowing for mediocrity. Grace allows for the imperfection of the human experience. It allows for the margin of error that all of us are guilty of in our interactions, our beliefs, our work and our relationships.
The next characteristic that I’ve worked hard to develop is that of authenticity. As an individual, I consider myself to be authentic and genuine. But the learning for me from this past year has been around allowing myself to act more authentically as myself in leadership roles. I firmly believe that the best execution of leadership can only occur when you bring your full self to your task.
In this space, you improve creativity, drive for success, and build a more welcoming environment. In my role as co-president of the Design & Innovation Club, I have been asking myself how, (if I’ve been thinking constantly of racial justice this summer) I can integrate what I’m consumed with mentally with the work I do daily.
Together with my peers, we planned a session to talk about the intersection of race and design thinking and how our technology products can be designed with more inclusion in mind. One of the speakers at the spring Design Summit spoke exclusively on the topic of designing with accessibility in mind. This intersection of what I care about as a human, with what I do as a leader, has been critical in surfacing a more engaged, engaging and motivated community member.
I’ve had the great fortune of being able to act as a leader at Fuqua, in both formal and informal settings. While I pride myself in giving back to my community first, I also take great pleasure in watching my own leadership development process. I take pleasure in the knowledge that the experience I have today will shape me into the leader I will become tomorrow. And, with the lessons I learn here at Fuqua, commitment to my leadership philosophy and strong doses of authenticity and grace, I hope I can be the leader my communities deserve in the future.