For students new to it, learning how to lead can be hard, not to mention intimidating. Even for students with some experience, leading is a concept that isn’t the most intuitive. Are you supposed to just take charge in every group assignment? Make sure your voice is the loudest? Delegate responsibility until all that’s left is you as supreme overlord of the Sith and—ok, maybe not that last point. The truth is, leadership is something so dynamic and diverse that there isn’t a single way to learn it. That was one of the main guiding principles behind this conference I attended last Saturday called UConnect, a leadership conference based in University College.
Although I was on the planning committee for this (surprise! I got involved instead of just being a participant), I was still able to enjoy most of the day. The introductory address included a speech from Donald Ainslie, University College’s principal, and afterwards a panel discussion of University College alumni. Both parties spoke about what leadership meant to them, how they showed leadership in their undergrads and recounted personal experiences and steps in their journeys. Principal Donald Ainslie spoke about showing leadership resisting what his parents wanted him to pursue – Law – and instead becoming a professor in Philosophy. One of the most important lessons, I think, that Principal Ainslie shared was to follow what you love, what excites you, what pushes you to think.
The alumni panel, consisting of Aliyah Ramji, Spencer Sawyer, and Kristen Mainella, was exciting and inspiring. Additionally, they were engaging, funny, and at different stages of success. But above all, they were relatable; hearing their stories of not knowing at all what to do with their lives post-university completely resonated with me. They taught us that leadership exists in different forms, and that is something malleable. Sawyer mentioned his view of leadership is building up an ego, tearing it down when you get comfortable, then building it back up again. Ramji praised not knowing what to do, because adaptability is her strong suit in leadership. Mainella stressed the value of teamwork and collective action, and how leadership is not about being by yourself; don’t just network, but more importantly, make good friendships.
These remarks and experiences propelled everyone through the day of workshops, sessions, and networking bits in between. I learned about understanding yourself and transforming your qualities and things you love into valuable skills desired by employers in the job markets. I saw tons of other peers introduce themselves to other people unabashedly, speaking excitedly about the conference and planting seeds. During the latter half of the conference, I was engaged in a session about equity and how it is a never-ending process. I never knew who was at an artificial ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ level of leadership the entire time; the point, for me, was that everyone was in a constant state of learning for the entire day.
While January is career month and anxieties about what to do during or post university can rise up, conferences like UConnect are key events where you can learn more about yourself, about who you want to be, and about who you want surrounding you and lifting you up. I may have thought I had a general knowledge and practicing of leadership that was sufficient, but I left that conference seeking greater heights. Leadership, in my opinion, is constantly remolding yourself, in some aspects changing, but ultimately learning and relearning even the basics. I challenge you to go to a conference. One notable conference happening soon is the U of T Leading Together event on February 29. For others, I encourage you to check with your college or faculty about opportunities coming up. But first, reflect; are you where you want to be right now? How can you get there? I promise you, the answer you find will be worth it.