Have Values, Will Lead | Teen Ink

Have Values, Will Lead

May 28, 2019
By Julianna.S GOLD, Tirana, Other
Julianna.S GOLD, Tirana, Other
17 articles 0 photos 28 comments

Leonardo Da Vinci used to make a “to-learn” list. He’d write down everything he wanted to learn that day. My writing on what you need to be a true leader is because I needed to read it. I have no guidance for those who want to lead; this is my “to-learn” list. So I’m writing about what I wish I’d known and learned from working in various robotics teams and some other things that in retrospect I suppose I already knew.

There is a simple expression that describes the very nature of human ambition and desire for excellence: “the sky’s the limit.” I think becoming a better version of yourself is relatively easy: you take matters into your own hands and improve your skills through practice and dedication: be it in math or writing, swimming or piano playing. The outcome rests on your perseverance and that alone. However, individually we can achieve greatness in only a few endeavors, as we are severely limited by how many hours a day we can work productively. Working alongside others in a team is how we try to expand our personal capacities. But being on a team is different than working on your own. It is a territory fraught with politics and relationships that are not easily managed. In the ideal team, each member contributes and at the same time benefits from each contribution: our shared goal holds us together because none of us would ever be able to finish the job alone. But on the other hand, success in a team requires much more than individual dedication and ambition, it requires a committed team and a real leader among them.

For many the words “leader” and “leadership” conjure up an image of authority, a distant figure, a person who is distinguished as being better than the rest by look and aura: a King of modern times. But over the many months in which I worked in various tech teams- no matter what role I performed, be it engineer or programmer - I discovered that real leadership occurs through example and is ultimately, about one’s personal values. Of course competencies in the chosen field are essential, but who a person is, their makeup, will eventually determine whether the team reaches its goal or not. When the demands of reality press hard on a team, only character will be able to fulfill those demands and deliver. There are no shortcuts to character: do good work; make stuff everyday; fail; get better; show your work; listen to feedback; ignore enemies. As José Ortega y Gasset put it: “Tell me to what you pay attention to, and I will tell you who you are.”

A recent study of international CEOs and corporations, conducted by the Harvard Business Review, found that “high ethical and moral standards” is the most important leadership competency and what truly carries a team through (Giles). The makeup of each individual in a team will determine the outcome of the team as a whole. In front of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the possibility of defeat and vulnerability, you’ll face two types of teammates. There will be teammates who will put all hands on deck, clear their heads of negativity, and get to work with renewed energy: a “Let’s do this!” attitude. Their character will meet the demands of reality and they will be able to deliver. They may not be the assigned leader, but they take on a role of leadership by example, through their values: through their ability to place their personal qualms aside and direct all attention to the challenge at hand. But others will get mean, retreat, or dive deep into a black hole of rumors and finger-pointing. They will resort to destructive chatter and whispers because they lack strength of character and ability to remain goal-oriented. As Andre Torrez suggested, “Complain about the way other people make software by making software,” because real leaders don’t waste their energy on anger, complaints, and gossip. Leadership is the choice to quit making fights and go do something.

At the beginning of each new project, the future seems filled with opportunities, things are exciting. Each team member dreams about at least one of the enormous possibilities that lie ahead. But when the time comes to sit down and chart the course towards the end goal, the challenges and obstacles come into focus. There will be long weeks of grueling work and often no rewards for anyone. Those who work alongside you, and those who don’t, will question your every choice to go a certain way. The demands that reality puts on your shoulders will become many and heavy. Difficult people and relationships will be piled on top of an already difficult task and somehow, you have to make it work. It is the darkest moment. But a leader knows that not everybody will get it. People will misinterpret and misunderstand. This is when a real leader chooses to focus on the work: to remain true to their “high ethical and moral standards.” (Giles). On the days where the risk of failure is high, when you’re working overtime, yet still facing the same road-block, where does a leader find the courage to push forward, to put themselves aside and work strategically? They dig deep, down to what they hold important, to what defines them, and they try to take each day in stride. That is where a leader finds their strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Ultimately, strength of character will determine whether you can deliver, or not. And by the end of the project, despite the apparent hardship and imperfection, you realize that the result is much better than expected. As surmised by Kenneth Goldsmith, “If you work on something a little bit every day, you will end up with something that is massive.”

We can only deal with reality to the level of our integrity of character, and the harder we work, the wiser and luckier we get. That is my received knowledge from teamwork. I know there is always more knowledge to gain from others sharing their own past work, which I can put to good use in my future. That’s the last lesson on value-based leadership, share what you’ve learned, because, in the words of Annie Dillard: “The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

                                                          Works Cited

Giles, Sunnie. “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review, 25 Oct. 2017.

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