What Does It Mean to be a Leader? – By Jason Shriner

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Summer camp leaders and aides gain leadership experiences on the job by learning how to work together as a team to lead their campers
Summer camp leaders and aides gain leadership experiences on the job by learning how to work together as a team to lead their campers

For a good portion of my life, I more or less had a very particular idea of what qualities a leader should have. To me, a leader was somebody who delegated tasks, who managed people and resources, and who was held accountable for the success or failure of a project. Leaders were a very specific set people who were naturally outspoken and bold. They welcomed challenges and approached situations head on.

However, a part of me has always felt this definition was extremely limiting. It’s only recently that I realized why.

This past September I was accepted into the 2017 class of Leadership Prince William, a program designed to bring together community leaders and foster their talents to make them even better leaders so that the entire community benefits. I’ve always liked the idea of working to improve my community, which is probably why I enjoy volunteering, and why I was drawn to public service, so Leadership Prince William seemed like a good fit. At the same time, I personally never thought of myself as an especially good leader so I figured leadership training would be helpful.

At our first session, which happened to be a two-day retreat, I quickly learned that good leaders could be any mix of personalities, strengths, weaknesses, characteristics, and backgrounds. You don’t have to be a traditional extrovert nor do you have to tackle situations with intense fervor to be a good leader. It’s completely reasonable to find excellent leaders who work behind the scenes or who gather lots of information before solving a problem. After the retreat, I felt there were two important qualities a great leader should possess:

A great leader should recognize their own strengths and weaknesses

In order to be a great leader, you really have to know yourself. One of the most interesting parts about Leadership Prince William is learning about our individual Emergenetics profiles (similar idea as Myers-Briggs) where you discover, among other things, how you process and communicate information.

My thinking profile is somewhat balanced between all four aspects with a slightly heavier emphasis on structural. Without going into intense detail, being mainly structural means I prefer working hands on and I prefer having clear instructions and expectations. When I shared this with my friends and coworkers, no one was surprised. Considering I used to be a baker, I wasn’t surprised either!

With Emergenetics, you also learn how you communicate with others. My behavioral profile is quiet, peacekeeping, and firm (which basically means I don’t change my mind very easily). That last part was the most surprising to me personally because I’ve always considered myself open and accommodating. However, when I discussed this with my friends and coworkers many of them pointed out that when I feel strongly about something, I’m not quick to give in.

Learning this about myself has helped me grow as a team member of Parks and Recreation. Knowing that I can be a little on the stubborn side (despite me thinking the contrary) has helped me realize that I need to step back and be more open. At the same time, I’m able to communicate to my coworkers that I need information in a structural way to help me with productivity and decision making. Before it felt like I was being particular and unyielding, but now I know that unless I can receive and organize information in a structural way it’s difficult for me to produce quality work.

A great leader must care about their community

A running theme in Leadership Prince William is the focus on the community. A large portion of our time is spent learning all about the County, Towns, and Cities in our area and what resources are available. We are extremely fortunate to live in an area with tons of resources, but it’s important to encourage people to take advantage of them!

And really that’s the key part – leaders truly have to be selfless. If a leader doesn’t have an “others first” mentality, it’s going to be difficult to inspire and motivate people. A leader has to be able to juggle considering the community as a whole and respecting each person as an individual. Balancing that is a full time job, leaving no time to be selfish.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if I consider myself to be a leader. In some ways, I pretty much have to be. I have two amazing employees – not to mention tons of coworkers – who expect me to lead the Marketing Division. Outside of work though, I’m not sure it would be fair for me to self-designate myself as a leader.

My degree and background is in Baking and Pastry Arts. It’s kind of like when people used to ask me if I considered myself a chef. I’ve always personally preferred baker – it more clearly identified what I specialized in – but also I always felt like chef was a title you had to earn. To really self-identify as a chef, somebody else had to recognize that in you first.

I think that’s what I’m hoping to find out from participating in Leadership Prince William. I’m hoping that somewhere among the 30+ community leaders gathered together for the class of 2017, one of these leaders will see leadership qualities within me.

Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at J.Shriner@manassasparkva.gov.

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