By Deborah Vieyra
On no. No matter who you get advice from for your fellowship application, they all seem to be saying the same thing—that it’s important to demonstrate leadership skills. Leadership skills?!? Ok. So, there was this one time when I led my granny’s dog to the park, but he was on a leash. Oh! Then there was the day I had all these people behind me, but to be honest that’s probably because I was in a queue at the mall.
Deciding how to demonstrate your leadership abilities can be very challenging, particularly if you are a more introverted person. But don’t fret! It is important to remember that there all kinds of leaders in this world. Not everyone leads from the front with a big voice and presence to match. Imagine the kind of world we would live in if that were the case. It would be chaos. We need a range of different leadership methods, and an equal variation of types of people to carry them out. We need sensitivity and personal attention, as much as we need those who are adept at rallying the troops.
If this has caused you to run searches through your history for suitable examples of your leadership abilities, you can take a backseat for the moment. We’ll lead you through three ways to illustrate your leadership skills, to help you realize that you have actually been a leader all along.
1. Caring for others
If you have ever volunteered in any capacity, or if a degree of your professional life involves caring for others, you are already a leader. It is vital to inform the selection committee of your experience in this regard, either through your resume or by mentioning it in your personal statement. You may not have realized that what you were doing can be considered leadership. It turns out, demonstrating the ability to care for others is probably the strongest quality a leader can have. By engaging in activity that puts other people before you, you are illustrating your capacity to feel and show empathy and inspiring others to do the same.
2. Spearheading new research
You do not have to be Number One in your field for your academic work to attest to your leadership abilities. Have you taken part in any research projects where you were in charge of a certain aspect of the outcome? Even if it seemed insignificant at the time, mention the experience you went through when you took on responsibility for something. How did it feel to have other people counting on you to deliver? Did you feel accountable to your team? Has the resulting research inspired others in your field to further explore your topic of inquiry? Leaders have the capacity to see beyond their individual experience and envision themselves as a part of a greater whole.
3. Participating in hobbies
You may think that your hobbies are just a way for you to pass the time in the hours when you are not working or studying. Have you ever considered that your soccer club, or your gaming group, or the 80s cover band you play in could assist you when it comes to demonstrating leadership skills on your fellowship application? If you are involved in any sort of organizational capacity, it will serve you to highlight this. Have you helped book the venues for your band’s gigs? Have you created a calendar for your book club? If your hobby is a more solitary activity, like writing or gardening, perhaps you have inspired others to follow in your footsteps.
I task you to write down a list of five times when you demonstrated leadership abilities. Write about the whole experience. Think of what it felt like to be in that position and the challenges that came about when fulfilling that role. Once you have done that, select the best of these examples and tell that selection committee why you were born to be a leader.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.