Meghan is currently working towards her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology here at Illinois Tech. She will be taking over the position of Leadership Academy Program Manager this summer.
1. We all have our own opinions of good characteristics of a leader, but how would you personally define a leader?
I would define a leader as somebody who inspires and cultivates the best in their followers while also moving the group towards their goal. That would require, as far as characteristics go, competence, empathy, self-awareness, and confidence.
2. What is the best piece of advice that you would give a future or incoming leader?
I think that the followers are the most important part of being a leader so, the best advice I would give is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. A lot of times we think that a leader is the best at a task or knows the most, we set them up on a pedestal and that can set them up for failure. Instead, if you surround yourself with followers who know more than you do, you are bringing more to the team and keeping yourself humble - which is an underappreciated trait amongst leaders.
Additionally, while the confidence I mentioned earlier is assumed to be in the self, in their thoughts and decisions, a leader’s confidence should mainly be rooted in the followers. They are each bringing something unique and by creating a team of people who contribute different strengths, the leader is able to have confidence in the team’s ability to reach their goals.
3. What would you say is an event or time in your life that you feel really turned you into a leader?
As an undergraduate, I lead a group of high school students on a two-week hike through the mountains of Philmont (NM). We carried everything on our backs, and hiked a total of 150 miles. The group was diverse and the most difficult part was getting them to work together as a team. Each person was struggling at some point physically, mentally, or spiritually as they hiked 15 miles a day. As their leader, I had to make time to talk to them individually and see where they were struggling, in order to be able to bring them together as a team. To do this, I pulled on some of their strengths. For example, two of the girls had ukuleles and would sing for everyone each night at camp; one of the guys was really good at improv and kept everyone laughing to help them forget about the blisters on their feet. Leadership is really about understanding individuals and how to bring them together to improve the group. On a personal note, this hike was an incredibly valuable experience in developing my leadership as I was likewise pushing my own boundaries. As a leader, you are not immune to all of the challenges your team is going through— in some cases you have even more. But what distinguishes a leader is being able to empathize and still step away from these difficulties and hold people accountable both individually and as a team.
4. What organizations or roles do you have on campus or in the workforce in which you are a leader?
When I was in undergraduate, I was involved in everything, but probably the best leadership experience was as a peer health mentor. I was a representative of the student health center to my peers and lead workshops and events on different topics related to students' mental and physical health. Through that role, I became someone that people came to for advice and guidance with various concerns or things that they perhaps were not ready to talk to the student health center about. However, as a student representative, the greatest challenge was balancing the desire to provide advice while being honest and transparent that there were things that I didn’t know as a peer.
In applying that experience to today, I now work as a consultant for an organization using statistics to help guide some of their business decisions. On occasion, they may have questions for me that I don’t have an immediate answer for. My previous experiences have reinforced the importance of taking your time to give the best advice - I may not have the answer right now but I know how to find it and can get back to you -- shortly!
5. Some of the most defining moments for leaders are during times of difficulty or struggle. Has there been a time in which you were met with a serious problem and ended up becoming a better leader because of it?
Nothing shapes people as much as failure, in my opinion. Fail early, fail big or small, but be okay with failure. In terms of my experience leading and advising people, failing a little helped me learn how much influence a person can have and how much my decisions can impact someone. It is critical to step back and consider every part of the situation. You may think you understand something or that you have the right answer; however, taking time to reflect is vital. It can be easy to forget the scope of your influence especially when you are focused on your goal. Understanding and thinking about broader concerns such as what happens if it goes wrong are imperative. Likewise, the ways in which your team members talk to and interact with you and each other can have great consequences. Without these in consideration, the fallout can be huge.
6. In what ways has Leadership Academy specifically helped you become a more prominent and confident leader? What has the Academy meant to you?
The Leadership Academy is an interesting group; not only are you some of the strongest leaders on campus, you are also some of the most dedicated to learning about leadership. You each bring such different styles, perspectives, and thoughts that simply sitting amongst you all is a learning experience. The Academy is a sort of a leaderless group and I get to watch you all take your strengths and apply them differently to the same situation. I especially saw this during the Leadership Academy’s Sophomore Leadership Retreat in observing the various senior scholars creatively and uniquely lead their boat builds. In addition, I am inspired by Rodney; as the current Program Manager, the way he handles situations and approaches tasks is motivating. Understanding his reasoning and the paths he takes has made me a more effective leader.
7. Where is a place that you have always wanted to travel to but have never had the opportunity to do so?
Within the USA, I would like to travel to New Orleans, I think there is a lot of unique and unspoken history that I would like to see and learn more about. Outside of the USA, everywhere! I honestly I have never met a country I did not want to go to. I do have plans to go to New Zealand in December (Lord of the Rings was filmed there and I would like to go hiking). Additionally, this summer I was in Pakistan and it was my first time in the East, I loved it and I would like to go back to that region. I also want to go to Venezuela at some point but I want to go at a time when their country is not in turmoil. I love to go to places where people can express what they love about their countries and that can be difficult during times of stress and national conflict.
8. What is one of your fondest memories from your four years at college or in academia?
Hands down, my study abroad for several reasons. I was able to participate in four study abroad opportunities: Scotland, Italy, Greece, and Morocco, but Glasgow, Scotland was my favorite. It was the first time I had the chance to do research abroad; academically, it was thrilling, and I was able to lead my own project. On a life experience note, I lived in a flat with five girls from vastly different backgrounds. We would make weekly dinners and bring something from our home country and try to incorporate or celebrate various holidays. It was invaluable to appreciate and experience cultures not limited to the place I was living in. They say you can’t run away from your problems, but I think when you leave, you can outgrow them. I was a very different person before I studied abroad, and I outgrew a lot of different challenges: I had the opportunity to learn and to change who I am, who I strive to be.
9. Would you rather be attacked by one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?
I am terrified of birds, so I would personally choose one hundred duck-sized horses.