When Hayley Pottle was born, I was privileged to be in the delivery room as a photographer for the family. Throughout the years I have been impressed by her passion for life, her energy, and her desire to learn and grow. Although I might be biased, Hayley exemplifies the values that help leaders of all ages thrive. Who she has become and what she has accomplished is inspiring to me – I hope she’ll inspire you too. Enjoy!
Hello! I am just another hopeful, emerging, young leader, another idealist in a generation that is commonly characterized as lazy, entitled, and self-obsessed. Ouch! Despite the lingering burn of those words, we have also been described as passionate, open-minded and self-expressive.
Regardless of whatever generation we young folk, youth, or young-uns (as my mom likes to say) are in, we have a responsibility to materialize as leaders. I used the word “emerging” purposefully at the start of this post. We are developing and growing in a world that is desperate for strong and resilient leaders.
One could argue that we have more resources than ever. Yet, we are facing some of the most complex issues of our time. Government accountability and corruption, poverty, religious conflicts, inequality, wars, and climate change. Anyone else need to take a deep breath?
So where do we start? Where do we go from here? What do young leaders need today?
1) A disdain for the comfortable
From the first day at VCU, my collegiate career began with a focus on leadership. As an undergrad, I went through the VCU Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) as a mentee, mentor, intern, and eventually the administrative coordinator for the program. On the first day of the program I was immediately challenged by the director to do the uncomfortable and think outside the box. I quickly began engaging my fellow students and serving my peers through ELP. I conducted research and created a campaign to increase awareness of university resources for under-represented students. ELP became my home at VCU, and I was empowered by like-minded students to pursue my leadership potential.
In a world obsessed with instant gratification and security, even the strongest leader can become complacent. However, change is inevitable – whether organizationally, personally, or professionally. Being able to effectively manage change can make the difference for a young leader – and leaders of all ages. This can redefine culture and create success.
2) Empathy that challenges our interactions
I served as a sophomore mentor in ELP, one of the most challenging and rewarding processes of my college career. As a guide, I helped acclimate four extraordinary freshmen to the university by actively listening to their stories and experiences. I quickly discovered their different backgrounds and unique personalities as they adjusted to college life. By assessing their needs, I adapted my communication style for their success.
To navigate as a young leader today, it is not enough to merely say we understand where another person is coming from, to be informed of current events, and post our views and values on social media. While all those efforts are good in their own right, our values need to shape our actions.
When we commit to compassionate interactions with others, we forge connections that shape effective and sustainable cross-cultural relationships.
3) Conflict resolution skills
The summer of my sophomore year of college I had the pleasure of serving as an intern for Legacy International, a U.S. Department of State funded nonprofit. This organization “equips emerging leaders to transform their values and vision into sustainable success.” I helped administer programming for the Global Youth Village program. This program brings together middle and high school aged participants from over 107 countries. I created and facilitated a Talk Like “Ted” workshop inspired by TEDx. This exercise challenged the students’ communication and collaboration skills due to cultural and language differences.
In taking the time to listen to one another, provide feedback, and be educated about another person’s culture, conflicts were resolved in the group. This resulted in everyone feeling valued and supported in sharing their story.
This experience heightened the reality that our world is becoming ever more connected. Leaders have an immediate network with their peers across the globe. We may now have instant conversations with those in different countries or cultures, and this may lead to challenges. To navigate an ever-shrinking world, we must step outside of our comforts zone into a new space, push through our traditional perceptions, and address conflict.
Last summer was the summer of adaption for me. I studied abroad for the first time at the American College of Greece in Athens. I also traveled across Europe for a few weeks following my studies. I found the need to alter my viewpoints and style for each new destination. Whether navigating the unpaved roads and natural wonders of Iceland, visiting little towns in Spain, attempting to buy gelato in Italy, or undertaking a conversation with native Grecians on the neighboring islands, modification was key.
When I returned to the states I immediately began working with the U.S. Department of State Initiative, TechGirls. This program provides educational and professional development opportunities for high school girls from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interested in the STEM fields. Along with three fellow advisors, we mentored and counseled 28 girls from the MENA regions across Washington D.C. through job shadows, governmental tours and meetings, and sightseeing the D.C. monuments (with many selfies taken along the way). We also visited Virginia Tech where the participants engaged in coding courses at the university.
Adaptability was the answer throughout this month-long endeavor. Whether stuck outside the Capitol of the United States in a torrential rainstorm (with 28 girls and no cover), on long bus rides across the state of Virginia, or in leadership clinics where the girls addressed critical issues each of their communities faced, we learned how to reshape our perspectives and expectations to fit the situation.
The journey we commit to, the investments we make, the future we hope for, all compel this generation to lead with flexibility. We may not succeed on the first, second or maybe even 10th time. Yet, to create something that matters, that is new and impactful, we must be able to change in the process. You can trust that adapting to be more effective as a leader is well worth the cost.
Take one final, contemplative deep breath.
In this journey, we have options as leaders – to take shortcuts or to make a consistent effort to see the possibilities and contribute. Through the discomfort, we refine our skills and our abilities to be more effective. Empathy that impacts our lives helps us to do, to work, and not just wonder. Through conflict resolution, we disarm passivity while pursuing collaboration. We gain knowledge and connections required to accomplish our goals. Finally, adaptability allows us to contribute meaningfully based on ever-evolving ideas. The effort is worth it, friends.