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A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way

Emily CunninghamHave you ever had to write a list of things you like about yourself, a list of your redeeming qualities? Usually you can manage to scratch together a few admirable characteristics but generally there are one or two stand out qualities that you possess that are the epitome of who you are.

In the same way, have you ever played the game “how would you describe… Auntie Glenda”, assuming you are looking at the positives for Auntie Glenda, there should be at least one particular stand out quality that she naturally displays, something that you can admire about her, that is the epitome of who she is.

My point is that generally speaking each person you come into contact with has at least one stand out quality, one very positive attribute that they possess that comes naturally to them, is part of their personality, a quality that they absolutely nail so that when you leave their presence you comment, wow she/he is so…

I hope over time to be able to share with you some of the special qualities that people around me possess, they will be real people telling real stories about what it means to be a nurturer, to live compassionately, to be calm and centred, to be super enthusiastic or as in today’s post – “what it means to be a leader”…

There are few people who I have come across that have shown greater natural leadership skills than my friend Emily. She has done so much already in her 24 years and what is most fun is that she is just a little bit famous in WA netball circles. To get where she has, at the very top of WA in her sport, has taken huge determination and a lot of pain (she has often been seen hobbling around our office with broken feet on a Monday morning) and so while Emily is a gun on the court, it is her abilities both off and on the court that will get her far.

Emily has written below, a little about her journey and her thoughts on the trials and tribulations of, as well as what it takes, to be a good leader. Hey who knows we could be reading the contemplations of the next female PM…

My name is Emily Cunningham. I am nearly 24 years old; I work full time and am within months of finishing my Uni degree. I work and study HR however I guess my true passion lies in netball and/or anything related to sport and fitness. I have played State League Netball since I was 14 years old and have also had the exciting opportunity of representing Western Australia.

Throughout the years I have had many chances to perform the role of leader whether at school, on the court or off the court as a mentor. I love the opportunity to mentor younger people – I have had numerous coaches and mentors over the years who have shaped who I am today and the thrill of being able to pass on those skills to others, inspires me. If I can provide someone with half of the amazing guidance that I have received todate, it will be a wonderful accomplishment.

Leadership to me means being an example – it’s setting an expected standard. Over the years I have realised that you do not have to be the ‘best’ player on the team, but rather a player who demonstrates the qualities, values and goals that the team is working towards as well as being passionate and competitive whilst remaining supportive and constructive.

A leader knows when to self-sacrifice – putting the team before themselves, assisting the coaches on their day off, or helping out at the local carnival with the kids – who are excited just to see them there, even if this means sacrificing their own personal time. A leader recognises the best way in which their team mates learn – by using aids or perhaps drawing the play. A leader knows how to be reliable, to be someone that their team mates can talk openly to, or knows when to speak up and when to keep things quiet. A leader knows how to show respect – respect for coaches and management, for team mates and for the people that look up to them.

A leader most importantly maintains their integrity at all times.

However, not all of my leadership experiences have been easy and in the past this has lead me to occasionally wonder whether is it really so great to be a leader. The term ‘leader’ is often viewed as a position of power – but in reality it comes with huge responsibility, self sacrifice and can compromise relationships, especially with peers. While being a dependable team mate is a must, sometimes being the one to step up and say something that your team mates may not want to hear or set an example when the buck is down and morale is low, is a difficult thing to do.

I recently had a team mate who was struggling on the court, resulting from problems they were experiencing at home and work – in this case and most others the person bottled up their feelings and tried to perform anyway and of course, the coach/other team mates didnt know and just pushed harder. As a leader within the team, I took her aside to find out what was going on and provided the support and understanding she needed even when it caused some rupture with those who were not aware of her situation.

A team cannot succeed without understanding and unity, a true leader gets that…

I believe that some people are born with the natural qualities that make them a good leader. However, I strongly believe that such qualities can also be enhanced over time and experience as long as this is coupled with passion, determination and most importantly an understanding of the responsibility that it takes to lead people. It may take mistakes and facing a few fears but when does anything worth accomplishing, not.

I was given a quote by Jim Rohn many years ago and it has become a mantra to me;

“the challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”

Leadership is rarely easy – but it is an honour. It’s an opportunity, an opportunity to be a role model, set an example, encourage, inspire, step up and – see the bigger picture. It’s exhilarating and challenging and I could not be luckier to have had the experiences that I have had and cannot wait for future opportunities, future chances. Success to me is learning, and leadership has provided me with the greatest lessons in life.