Leadership Lessons Learned Abroad

Most likely surprising no one, being abroad taught me a lot of things. While I’m only required to write about one lesson I learned for one of my scholarships on campus, I’m notorious for wanting to overachieve and we all know how much I like lists, so I decided to compile a list of some of the leadership lessons I learned while I was abroad.

1. Let other people lead (sometimes)

This was probably the biggest lesson I learned, which is why I’m starting with it. I’m a pretty big control freak (to put it lightly) and have a really hard time delegating because I have a “if you want it done right, do it yourself” kind of attitude because I’m afraid of other people mucking it up. But an effective leader allows others to learn from their experiences – I was often the person in new places with the maps, the tickets, the saved lists of things to do, and I had to let some of my companions wander and learn about the cities for themselves without my dominating knowledge. Of course, I always had that information on backup, especially if we needed to get somewhere fast, but it was much more enjoyable to let others discover things on their own too.

2. Planning isn’t everything

As may be expected, I’m a huge planner. Before going to London, I had spreadsheets of places to see and go and what to do and when to do it. But something I quickly learned is you have to be much more flexible, because sometimes the best experiences happen on the fly and when you’re least expecting it.

3. Experience as much as you can

I found a lot of good leadership happens when the leader has a lot of experience in multitudes of situations – from new cities to how to deal with difficult people to navigating in an unfamiliar area. I got to see a lot of different parts of London, and of cities in Europe, and I found that I learned a lot by just seeing lots of things. My flatmates and I really tried to seize the opportunity we had of being abroad, and did lots of different things. Many of my classes also took us out into the city so we got to go to private art views, special exhibitions, theatre performances, small museums and more. Having a broad range of experiences to pull from and a large knowledge base makes it easier when you’re faced with decisions in leadership positions.

4. Respect others

This seems like kind of a “no, duh” kind of lesson, but I was honestly fairly shocked by some students’ lack of trying to immerse themselves in another culture. It’s important as a leader to respect others on an individual level as well as a cultural one, especially when dealing with international situations. I think especially as students, it was surprising to me that I knew some people who wouldn’t try to speak the language of the country we were in (even for small phrases like “please” and “thank you”) or would get annoyed at cultural differences like not handing the money directly to the vendor or how the public transport worked. It’s important as a leader to at least be respectful of others, even if you disagree or don’t understand them completely.

5.  Listen

Similar to the first lesson, I’ve previously had a really hard time not trying to interject my own opinions most of the time. This semester I learned (sometimes the hard way) that I often needed to simply shut up and listen to others because they have valid opinions and ideas too. This was a really hard one for me, and one I’m admittedly still working on, but something I’ve started to become more aware of in my own behaviors.

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