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I learnt to be a leader. You can too.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my experience as an ICS team leader and how it’s shaped who I’ve gone on to become. I’ve been a confident person for as long as I can remember – but I wouldn’t say being in a leadership role came naturally to me.

When I was volunteering in Malawi with ICS, I quickly learnt that that stereotypical image of a good leader – a confident speaker, someone to take the lead – isn’t everything. I discovered that just as important are compassion, open mindedness and leaving your ego at the door.

"I quickly learnt that the stereotypical image of a good leader isn't everything"
© Hannah Grace Weston
"I quickly learnt that the stereotypical image of a good leader isn't everything"
I realised I’d gone into the role thinking I was already there. I left understanding that ICS made me become that person.
Hannah Grace Weston

Perfection doesn’t exist

If I had to choose just one thing that being an ICS team leader taught me, it would be that perfection doesn’t exist. A leader sitting away from their team, frustrated that they can’t find a solution to a problem isn’t truly a leader yet. The moment you ask your team what they think – and they come up with solutions – well, that’s the moment you earn your title.

After ICS I started working for The Challenge – the organisation behind the scenes of National Citizen Service. In my new role, I was responsible for leading teams of staff to inspire 15 to 17-year-olds to deliver social action projects in their own communities.

Every morning I would carry a folder to my staff briefings with every resource I’d possibly need. But I finally realised that carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders tires you out and stops you from noticing the gold dust all around you – your team. This was something I’d learnt in Malawi, but like any human, I had to fall over the same hurdle twice to truly understand.

A girl answers a question during an ICS session on the importance of education
A Malawian girl answers a question during an ICS session on the importance of education
A more useful approach wasn’t for me to be prepared for every outcome – but for my team to prepare themselves.
Hannah Grace Weston

Stepping back to appreciate the talent around me

Fully understanding this power of the team was the single most important lesson that enabled me to put myself forward as an NCS Programme Leader, supporting teams of 60 young people and 10 staff on residentials. If you’d have told me I’d step into this role, I wouldn’t have believed you. Why? I hadn’t fully grasped the idea of leading a team yet.

Could I speak in public? Yes. Could I lead activities? Yes. Was I putting a lot of pressure on myself to deliver and have all the answers? Yes.

But what I needed was to step back and fully appreciate the talent around me. With a knowledge and understanding of your team’s abilities, the pressure is lifted. Taking on a project as your sole burden will inevitably wipe you out, but tackling it together as team not only shares the ownership and responsibility, but upskills each and every one of you.

You're not alone: ICS team leaders Thai Long Phlai and Ross McCaffrey in Cambodia
© ICS / VSO / Andrew Aitchison
You're not alone: ICS team leaders Thai Long Phlai and Ross McCaffrey in Cambodia

Allowing people to shine is what being a leader means

If someone in your team has a passion for football, then why would I lead a game, when they’ll excel at doing it? If someone has a great coaching technique, then why would we each attempt to try something new? Confidently and comfortably knowing that you don’t have all the answers, while utilising the expertise of others and allowing them to shine is what being a leader now means to me.

I’m ready for my third time as an NCS Programme Leader this summer and feeling excited to meet the amazing team I will be working with!

 

This summer, NCS are recruiting for 4,500 paid short term roles across the UK. We’ve partnered with them to offer ICS returned volunteers a fast track interview. Click below and mention ICS when you apply.

Paid work with NCS

Click here to apply before May 31st with the referral code ICS0518FT