Lessons on Leadership

For the last seven years, I worked in the world’s largest youth-led organization. I started my journey in the local office in my city in Medellin, Colombia, and went all the way to the global office. I worked my way all the way up to being in charge of Strategy at the global level and I managed the Youth for Global Goals program.

In this journey of +40 countries, +100 conferences, thousands of people and one single purpose of peace and fulfillment of humankind’s potential, I became a better leader.

I like to lead by example. To do this, I need to do my best to be on top of my own deliverables and that I am performing at a high level so that I may set a good example for the rest of my team. Here’s my list of habits that help me to optimize productivity and performance and, as a consequence, be a better example and leader to those around me:

1. Start your days with something done

I start my days with an easy task to gain a sense of achievement from the beginning and get myself in the game. A couple of emails that require information from me: sent; make your bed: done.
If you want to be organized, you will know what you need to do every day of the week. My suggestion is to start with something simple to get in the mood; but if you are more of a freestyle player just do something that will take you five to 10 minutes. If you can’t do little things, you will never be able to do big things.

2. Discipline is a choice: it can help you go through low moments

You can decide if you want to be on time, what time to wake up (certainly you can always snooze), and even to carry on with those tedious tasks of your daily life. In my sales and partnership roles,  I wasn’t always on track with my goals, but a few years ago I discovered that my discipline to call a prospect every day and build that proposal I was lazy to do, helped me achieve my goals every year.
Habits can get you out of the moments in which you lack motivation. If I had decided that some proposals weren’t worth it, or some emails to those wild card prospects weren’t worth sending I wouldn’t have signed as many partnerships as I did.

3. Failure is part of success, maybe the most important one

I have always laughed at those reading motivational quotes and articles about the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders; yet now I find myself giving the same sort of advice! You should always do things and learn from your experience to make it better the next time.

The first idea we have is not always the best or perhaps we didn’t explain it to our team in the best way. My suggestion is to figure out what you can make better, fix it and go again; you might start with 10 likes…but keep going, you could end up with thousands.

4. Science can take you from A to B, imagination can take you anywhere

You can always follow the textbook on how to do whatever your job needs, do what others do and so on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a totally viable option (I did that multiple times); but imagination will bring a lot of fun to your day-to-day.

How to do something a little better is how we go from 100 to 105. Yet how do we do something 10 times more, or how we make 95% of our customers review us with five stars is what brings the best ideas. Imagine all the possibilities and crazy ideas that will come. There is a lot of fun in the ‘what ifs’.

Here a quick story. A couple of months ago, we gathered 600 internationals in Cartagena, Colombia to teach kids from schools about sustainability. Most of the internationals didn’t speak Spanish so we tried to use this to our advantage when creating the spaces for activities and games. We ended up reaching thousands of kids, who at the end made a commitment to contribute to a better world. This was showcased in the United Nations HQ in New York as a way for youth to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

5. Stay positive in the hardest moments

Complaining doesn’t get you out of the problems you are facing. There is nothing that will bring down a team like complaining when things are not going well.

Another anecdote – I was once part of an event team for a conference of 800 attendees. At events like this, trust me, if something can go wrong it probably will. Yet at the end of every day, we gathered around some beers and celebrated the little things, appreciated those who excelled or supported us and had a great team space. It didn’t matter how much chaos we had in the conference: after these spaces, we were excited to keep going and make it better.

6. Be yourself, no one can say you are doing it wrong

Society has a lot of expectations towards each one of us, but when you break down society, what is it? The sum of each one of us.
What I found to have been the most important lesson of all is to always remain true to who you are. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Leaders can be effective in many different ways. To be a great leader therefore, you need to be authentic – be true to yourself and you will achieve great things!

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