The Importance of Listening as a Leader

It is impossible to believe that I have already made it to week six of this program! Some days it feels like I arrived yesterday, while others it feels like I have already been here for a lifetime. Every day has brought new experiences, new lessons, and new memories that I will cherish for long after this trip has concluded.

The theme for this week’s blog post is leadership. This word – leadership – is one that has held a place of utmost importance in my life for many years. As a young child, I was often told that I was a “natural leader”. While this was likely just a kind way to say “this kid is confident, friendly, and won’t stop talking”, as I have grown, I have often found myself in positions of leadership. In high school, I was the president of my school’s speech and debate team, tutored students in Hebrew and math, and taught martial arts classes to both young children and people four decades my senior alike. Continuing on to college, I spent a year serving on the board for the Pitt Hillel JUC, have trained underclassmen in my research lab, have been an Honors College orientation leader, and give campus tours to countless prospective students as a Pitt Pathfinder. This is a long-winded way of saying that I have had many leadership experiences and lots of opportunities to grow and mold my own leadership style

Before this internship experience, I would describe my leadership style as focused on collaboration and empowerment. I prioritize the opinions and perspectives of those I am leading, no matter how much more knowledge or experience than them I may have, and seek to make sure everybody in the room feels seen and heard. For example, I used to teach a weekly karate class for students ages nine to twelve. Although I was almost a decade older than some of the students at the time, I encouraged them to speak up if they ever disagreed with something I was doing, or had an idea for something that would make class more interesting and engaging. With this approach, I saw amazing results. A group of ten year olds helped me to create superhero themed agility drills that they looked forward to doing every week, and I had preteens who were not afraid to tell me honestly if I ever gave them directions that were confusing or unclear. Through this experience, I learned that a leadership style that prioritizes the voices of every member of the group leads to a positive working environment, where everybody feels valued and a lack of communication is not hindering anyone’s growth.

My internship abroad here in Madrid has actually served to reinforce my philosophy surrounding leadership. At the hospital where I am working, my supervisor is very busy, serving as both the head of the department as well as treating her own patients. While I respect the amount of work on her plate, this is frustrating, as it often leads to me being pushed to the sidelines, never having a chance to have an honest conversation with her about what is and is not working well with my internship. For example, my first day at the hospital, I was supposed to have a placement interview with my supervisor, in order to agree on expectations and the structure of the internship. However, my supervisor was very busy that day; instead of sitting down in her office and having a conversation, she stood in front of me in the hallway for a brief minute to inform me of my hours, then pawned me off to another psychologist for me to observe that week. This ended up having repercussions later on in my third week of the internship. When I arrived to the hospital on the Monday of my third week, my supervisor was surprised to see me. She told me that she had thought I was going to be here for two weeks, not two months, and was not entirely prepared for me to be there. This miscommunication could have been avoided, had my supervisor prioritized listening and having a two-way conversation instead of telling me what to do in a way that did not give me an opportunity to speak.

This experience is helping me to become a better leader, as it has reinforced the importance of being the type of leader who listens to what every single person in the room (or hospital) has to say, regardless of job title or rank. I have learned firsthand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a leadership style that does not make space for everyone’s voice, and I have seen the chaos that this lack of communication can bring. I look forward to bringing this learning experience back to Pitt, where I can continue to develop my leadership skills.

As a side note, here are some photos from this week! I visited a local market selling fresh squid, socialized with the friends I’ve made at the local karate school, and ate at a restaurant that sells thirty different types of croquetas.