This Saturday I took a day trip to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. It was a guided bus tour that allowed us to efficiently visit a few locations on the west coast of Ireland that are otherwise difficult to reach through normal public transportation. The tour left the city at 6:45 AM and did not return until 8:30 PM, making it a very full day. Since I spend so much time in Dublin, I really liked the opportunity to see another side of the country and the incredible landscape in the west. Although my fear of heights made the Cliffs a stressful visit, the view was stunning. Although I was hesitant to buy tickets for this tour, I am not considering buying tickets for another tour to Cork and Blarney while I am still in Ireland.
My leadership style before this experience was one of precise delegation and control, making sure all members of the team were coordinated and working together through every step of the process. This style was particularly apparent during my group project for my Digital Humanities course last semester. The project spanned the entire length of the semester and was conducted by a group of three working on a project chosen by one of the team members. The class and project involved XML document analysis, XSLT conversions, HTML and CSS web design, and SVG data visualizations. We combined these skills to measure the themes discussed in every Presidential inaugural address since 1900 and produce a website explaining our project, methods, and results. I was selected as project leader because I came up with the topic and have a background in history and political science.
I led this group with high level of control over every aspect of our progress and each step was executed with careful precision. I was always aware of what everyone was working on and the steps we needed to take with each coming week. This style allowed us to finish our project ahead of schedule and produced a site we were all proud of. In many ways, my leadership style was successful, leading the professor to invite me back as a teaching assistant when the class is resumed next spring. I am used to individual work where I have total control over all decision and the time frame for when work is executed, so I extended this mindset to my group work, using my teammates as extensions of myself and delegating assignments with specific instructions and deadlines. Luckily, my team members were good workers who understood our goals and did their part without any complaints. However, my experience this summer showed me that there are other ways to successfully guide a project toward its goals that can be equally, or more, successful. Although we did not have any issues within the team, I see now that I may have limited their intellectual creativity and prevented our project from reaching its full potential.
My experience this summer as a research assistant has been under a very different leadership style than I conducted during that Digital Humanities project. I am almost never given explicit directions, and although this was frustrating at first, I have begun using it to explore avenues of research that I think are important. I do independent work and then report my findings to the other members of my research team. They then come back to me with questions and let me know which direction they think is most beneficial for our ultimate goals. I then go back into the work I started and provide more detail on the aspects they questioned or wished to know more about. Not only does this give our project more fluidity and creativity, but it also allows me to work longer and more intently. If I had straightforward instructions only, I would likely finish those tasks quickly and be left with nothing to do for my remaining hours at work until I was given another task.
I also recognize the situations that makes these different leadership styles more and less effective. For my Digital Humanities project, we had a concrete deadline with specific tasks and steps we had to complete in order to receive credit. This summer, there is no deadline, and the researchers have not even decided on the exact topics for the papers they plan to write with this research. The lack of any pressure makes the laid-back style they have with me more effective because it allows for changes in the arguments they will make and the evidence they will use to support those claims. In projects that do have a deadline, the solution would likely be in a compromise between these two methods. A balance of direction and freedom will allow projects to steadily more towards the goal in a timely manner while allowing the room for creativity and natural changes in the direction of a given project.