Arielle Cassiday is a Lecturer for the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, Assistant to the Director of the Global Intercultural Research Center, and Green Action Fund Committee Member at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She is also currently serving as project lead on our Venetucci Farm Project.
I have been fortunate to learn a lot about leadership through both personal experiences, and valuable opportunities I have been afforded. Leadership, for me, began in high school with my role as Captain of the Varsity Tennis team and attendance at several student leadership conferences. Through both my undergrad and grad school experiences, leadership roles have been made a priority for me by serving as President of seven student organizations and attending numerous leadership conferences and seminars. Working in management roles within the corporate world allowed me to add to this body of knowledge in a completely different setting.
Through these experiences, I have come to believe that being a good leader means you are the first to take responsibility (particularly when something goes wrong) and the last to reap any benefits of your team’s efforts; leaders should be the first to show up, should take on the most work, and should be the last to leave or quit.
Even more importantly, being a good leader means listening—always, always asking your group for their opinions and ideas. Leading is not about telling people what to do; it is about asking people what they think should be done and then synthesizing all of those ideas into actionable steps. This requires a great deal of diplomacy and the ability to compromise and mediate. It also requires quick and critical thinking, as well as the confidence that you are making the best choices for your team.
Finally, leadership means caring. The best leaders are the individuals who have formed relationships with each group member, separately. Knowing details about your team members and showing them that you are paying attention through active listening creates a strong web of trust—and trust in a leader is perhaps the most important piece of succeeding as a group.
Working on the Quad’s Venetucci Farm project has shown me, yet again, another side to leadership. This is a unique role wherein it is necessary for faculty advisors to step back, letting the students apply creative and critical thinking without limiting them, while simultaneously providing useful information and constructive feedback. This role is similar to that which many faculty employ in the classroom setting, making professors a good fit for the Quad’s goals. Interestingly, the students who seem to be attracted to the Quad, and who make the best fit, are students who naturally take on leadership roles. This results in an interesting form of cooperation where there is not one distinct leader amongst the students, but multiple leaders who emerge for each part of the process. This benefits the project overall, allowing for the exploration of diverse viewpoints and higher levels of creativity which manifest, ultimately, as innovation.