Consultant of the board in Synapse on how to develop leadership skills during your study.

September 6, 2022

Leadership 101:

Most often, you would see leadership defined by its supposed opposite: management. Management is concerned with executing routines and procedures, as well as maintaining organizational stability – in the essence, it is concerning control. Leadership, on the other hand is concerned with direction setting, with novelty and innovation, and is essentially linked to change, movement and encouragement. Another way to phrase it would be that management is the equivalent of déjà vu (seen this before), whereas leadership is the equivalent of vu jàdé (never seen this before). Management implies that a problem/situation has been seen before and to respond correctly to the situation one would simply categorize it and execute the appropriate process. Leadership implies being faced with a problem or a situation that has not been seen before, and being able to navigate in that, a leader must construct a novel strategy. However, it can be difficult to define a word such as leadership as it is constantly changing but having a basic understanding of the word will allow you to build and grow as a leader.

Why is leadership important:

Leadership is an important set of skills, that allow one to inspire, motivate, and push people to break their own comfort zones and explore their capabilities. That one teacher, who inspired you to go extracurricular in your search for answers – that teacher is a leader. Parents are leaders, of course some are more talented than others, however they inspire and encourage their children throughout the first part of life. Leaders are all around us, and without their leadership, we probably would not be where we are today.

Personally, I believe that everyone has some sense of leadership. Every time we are faced with a new challenge, be it starting at university, writing a thesis, starting a new job, etc. we are forced to navigate in somewhat uncharted territory, and when we finally cross the finish line set for that task, we have succeeded in personal leadership. Leadership is all around us in almost everything we do, and I trust that being aware of this, is the first step to harness one’s potential as a leader. Of course, there is a definitive difference between what personal leadership and leadership is. Introverts might not be as comfortable finding themselves in the shoes of a leader as an extrovert would be, however, you start leading others by leading yourself.

For example, I think inclusivity is an important tool within the leadership toolbox. It is important to make sure that everyone feels respected, appreciated and heard. In Synapse I encourage this by making sure that there is room for every opinion to be presented during our meetings, as well as promote transparency between the board and the rest of the Synapse team. In this way, we ensure that people’s ideas are heard, taken into account, and when acted upon, the result is presented to the entire team.

How can one learn and further develop leadership skills during their studies:

During your studies, there is a multitude of different options to practice leadership. Besides extracurricular programs such as Future Leaders and Leaders of Tomorrow, which both seeks to develop the future leader in the brightest students, there is myriad of options like; tutoring for new students, being active at the study-café related to your study, taking part in the study-council, and volunteering to plan activities for your class. All in all, these options all present an opportunity to lead smaller groups of people to do amazing things that will impact those around you. Being open to feedback throughout these activities will allow you to learn and discover leadership and whether it is something you would feel comfortable with later on in your career.  

Having tutored twice at molecular biomedicine, participated thrice in the MolBioKem cabaret, and having been very active in planning activities related to our study environment (Friday bars, Game nights, Quiz nights, etc), I have had the opportunity to grow my leadership skills by just exploring options found through my study. Looking outside of the University, I joined Synapse quite early during my studies (2nd year of my Bachelor’s), allowing me to dive into organizational leadership in a more professional setting. This allowed me to practice teamwork in a completely different setting than what I experienced as a tutor at molecular biomedicine. Having both perspectives has definitely affected the way I interact with the people around me, both inside and outside of Synapse.

It is not always easy for me to be in these leadership roles as I am responsible for tasks and deadlines but above that, I am responsible for other people's’ well-being. I want to make sure that the people in synapse want to come and want to work, and that they are happy in the organization. Having now been elected as the chairman of Synapse allows me to challenge myself even more. I do not see myself as the perfect leader (yet – might not ever be), but ongoing feedback from the team and people around me to further enhance this skillset.

If you want to lead others, start by leading yourself – challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone once in a while, and explore the options you have at hand – Leadership skills are sought for in almost all corners of Academia and Industry, so I trust that it will be worth your time.