Informal leaders: the unsung heroes of an organization

Lexi Jackson, BSBA ’20, is the co-executive director of Bear Studios. She majors in leadership and strategic management and political science, and she wrote this for the Olin Blog.

I am still two years out from my full professional career, yet I estimate that I have read more than 10 books on leadership and have heard quotes from a dozen more. Washington University’s focus on developing leadership principles in its students is extensive and deliberate.

Indeed, it shapes students who are prepared to assume leadership roles upon graduation, whether formally or informally. However, building authentic and genuine professional leaders requires more than theoretical studies; leaders are shaped by how they respond to the situations around them, how they foster and maintain relationships, and how they reconcile their mistakes.

In my inaugural year as one of the executive directors of Bear Studios, a student-founded and student-operated strategy and design firm, I have not only witnessed the growth of my own leadership skills, but I have had the privilege to see incredible leaders form alongside me.

One of the hallmarks of working as a contractor in consulting or design work is the unpredictability of each project. Bear Studios fellows are excited by this challenge and are dedicated to meeting every client’s unique request. In situations that demand quick turnarounds or challenging subject material, Bear Studios fellows display some of the most valued leadership characteristics in the professional workplace. Our fellows are adaptable, receptive to feedback, and transparent, openly communicating with clients about how to best translate their vision into timely and comprehensive deliverables.

The secret to our team’s excellent client relations is the emphasis we place on developing relationships with one another. Effective leaders recognize the value of those in their network and work to invest in those individuals so they can grow together. Bear Studios fellows rotate through different types of projects throughout their tenure, collaborating with other fellows who have previously contributed to projects of a similar nature.

Fellows learn best practices from one another and maintain an open dialogue with more senior fellows to ask questions and obtain insights when needed. This practice helps our fellows further develop their skills and provide clients with the highest quality of work.

No leader in our organization, or any other, is exempt from error. Mistakes are a natural part of professional development. Strong leaders take ownership of their mistakes and seek to identify the ways in which they can learn and improve from the situation. Fellows provide an update to their colleagues and Bear Studios management at our weekly team meetings.

During this time, fellows may relay any challenges they are experiencing. This meeting provides a platform for the entire team to contribute feedback and advice for the fellow. Additionally, after each client engagement, fellows are asked to reflect on how they managed the project. Further, fellows receive direct feedback from their clients that choose to submit comments through our client post-engagement form. Analyzing their own feedback with that of their client is a comprehensive way for fellows to gain actionable measures for future improvement.

Leadership is not a book that can be judged by its cover. Leadership encompasses the depth of an individual’s commitment to the success of their environment, the growth of their colleagues, and the extent of their self-improvement. Bear Studios does not develop leaders. Leaders develop themselves by leveraging experiences and experts provided by Bear Studios.

Pictured above: At client engagement projects like the one above, held at TechArtista in spring 2018, Bear Studios fellows are encouraged to lead by creating promotional materials or helping to plan and manage events.

 

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