Pitt -> Delhi -> Mussoorie

(Picture of YWCA where we spent the night before heading to Mussoorie)

What cultural norm(s) of the host country do you anticipate being a challenge to learning about leadership?

Even before landing in India, I observed a difference in communication styles regarding personal space. As we waited on the tarmac in Newark for our plane to soar, the air conditioner began raining down small pieces of ice onto me and the gentleman next to me. The elderly Indian woman sitting in the aisle to my right was concerned and began snatching the little pieces of ice off of my leg. Reflecting on this encounter I believe it is an example of two different cultural norms. Growing up in America, I am used to personal space both in conversation and physically. I honestly cannot remember the last time I touched a stranger for anything. However, in India personal space during communication is at a closer proximity. We are all products of our environment, and I understand how living in a country filled with 1.5 billion people could force you into crowded areas where conversations are more intimate. This cultural norm was further observed the moment we hopped on the bus from the airport. Driving involves great communication between drivers and as I observed this coordination over our 8 hour bus ride, it looked different than I am accustomed to. Road lines which indicate strict rules to compartmentalize traffic in my mind felt more like suggestions as cars of all shapes and sizes zipped and weaved between each other. The drive was smooth, but I am simply someone who is used to personal space even between automobiles. I had to adjust my judgment of the relative distance between cars to understand that we weren’t constantly about to crash into other drivers and everything was just as controlled as the rural roads I drive on at home. As a leader, we must be open to suggestions and understand that there is more than one way to reach a destination. So, these differences in cultural norms challenge me to put aside my biases for how I “think” things should be done and opt for new perspectives to problems.

(Pic of the many monkeys but don’t look them in the eyes!)

Are leaders born or made?

I believe that all people have the capability to become a great leader in their own form but many are simply never given the opportunity or neglect to seek it out. The notion that great leaders are born is a primitive way of thinking. Philosophies like the Great Man Leadership theory are shown to be very backwards and incomplete when compared to more contemporary leadership theories like servant based leadership. As I travel with a group of peers my age, we all have the potential to jump into situations and act as leaders. Some people may work harder when practicing a certain theory or be more naturally gifted at certain parts of one of the many leadership theories that exist. But there is no trait or characteristic people are born with that will include or exclude them from becoming great leaders.

What do you think is the hardest part about being a good leader?

The hardest part to becoming a great leader will look different for every person and also largely depends on your definition of a good leader. Take strengths based leadership as an example. The four domains of Clifton Strengths leadership theory are executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Within those four domains are the skills which make up strengths based leadership. Perhaps someone is great in the relationship building category but struggles with strategic thinking. Or maybe someone is a great executor but struggles to influence. So, yeah my answer was a bit of a cop out. But I want to focus the prompt further and instead answer the hardest part of becoming a good leader knowing my own Clifton Strengths. In executing, I have the restorative strength. In influencing I have the competitive strength. In relationship building I have the including strength. Finally, in strategic thinking I have both the analytical and learner strengths. Based on these skills I would say I am great at crafting plans and solutions to problems but need to improve on jumping in and executing them. I aim to achieve this goal by actively seeking out opportunities which I need to make decisions with limited experience or information. Good thing I have a ten day trek in the Himalayas to try this out on 😀.

(Pic from walk at Woodstock School, super blurry because I am still amateur photographer lol)