By: Caprise Perrineau, CHAIM Centre

Being a leader can be one of the toughest positions to find yourself in. Are you an autocratic leader? Democratic? Transformational or even a team leader? It can be challenging to find an approach that reflects your personality but is also helpful for the team that you are working with. It often requires some distance and perspective to truly discover your role in the team…

Seven, experienced and passionate graduate and PHD students from diverse disciplines at Carleton University, Michigan State University and the University of Saskatchewan, acted as the mentors to students tackling the issue of antibiotic resistance (AMR) in the recent Student HEALtH Challenge. Their knowledge in science, health, law, engineering, and more, allowed undergraduate participants access to a wonderful resource and sounding board to voice their plan to approach this colossal global health issue. And though the Student HEALtH Challenge was created for undergraduate students, mentors also had one of their own. Where do they fit into the team?

Well, Mentor Huiyun, from Michigan State University shared a noteworthy experience, “My group is very self-motivated and they are passionate about the project. My colleague and I decided to stay silent for most of time and watch their work instead of leading them to a certain direction.” Although it may seem contradictive, taking a step back is sometimes the best way to be a leader. Without an overbearing presence looming over the students, it allowed space for creativity, the exploration of unconventional ideas, and the development of a truly innovative, eventually winning strategy.

But leadership may not always be that easy. Through the stress of midterms and papers to write, students struggled to maintain their commitment to the challenge. This left a couple mentors in a particularly tricky situation. With less members in the team, remaining students inherited more responsibility and work to complete. Observing this struggle, the group mentors were quick to help wherever needed while maintaining enough distance to ensure their thoughts did not colour the team’s strategy. These mentors easily integrated themselves into the group as equals with student participants. Increased presence, dialogue and guidance was all that was needed to create a thorough and well researched strategic plan. These mentors were team players and truly worked in cohesion with undergraduates in order to be successful.

Though these are only two examples of leadership and different leadership styles, it becomes obvious that it is less about what a leader is capable of and more about the acknowledgement of a team and its dynamics. Sometimes, that requires taking charge of a situation and putting a team’s vision into action. Other times, allowing yourself to be the person behind the scenes providing resources, encouragement and criticism when needed, appears to ‘lead’ a group to success.

So whether you are a new student or accomplished scholar, the next time you are having trouble determining where your leadership skills will come in to play, first consider what the team’s goal. Provide what they need and offer guidance along the way.