Natural Leader? Not Quite.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being the Secretary-General for the twentieth edition of SPMUN, one of largest MUN conferences in Latin America. The experience was practically an organizational and administrative skill boot camp. I learned all the different functions of google sheets, designed logos and answered more emails than I thought possible. But the most important lesson I learned, was something that I thought I already knew: the role of a leader.


When I think of the word “leader”, several images come to mind. One is of Machiavelli’s book The Prince, that outlines the laws of power and control over a state. A Prince is in charge of writing the rules and also making sure they are enforced, be it through love and admiration or through fear. Another image is of a closed door, hiding a room where a small elite group of people carefully discuss strategy, that only opens when soldiers are meant to receive their instructions.


Each image outlines different ways one can lead, but they all ultimately share the same concept of leadership: writing and giving orders.


I’ve always considered myself someone who is assertive enough to be good at giving orders. Yet, once the responsibilities of a Secretary-General began to pile up on my calendar, I realized that giving orders was the last thing I’d be doing. I was the face of the conference, but I wasn’t the one participating in it. I’d read and carefully looked over all the topic guides, but that wouldn’t ensure a high level of debate. That was all up to the Chairs and to the Delegates, to the members of my team. I may have broken down countless times and tirelessly worked myself up over the planning mistakes I’d made, but ultimately, my work was only setting the stage. Like a director, I can order my actors to memorize their lines and places, but, during the performance, I have no control over what they’ll do. I learned I can’t walk in and replace them, much less yell out their mistakes. All I can do is hope for the best and that, to me, was terrifying.


I’m a control-freak. When I look around and see something going wrong, I immediately take the reins and claim responsibility for solving it. To me, being a leader was exactly that: having the authority to do everything, without having to rely on anyone. But that’s not it. It’s about teaching your team everything you’ve learned, being the picky person in charge of making sure whatever you’re doing stays afloat, taking responsibility for what your team does, and most importantly, standing aside to let share the spotlight and learn from it.


Next time you apply for a leadership position, don’t just think of the prestige. If you’ve gotten the role, chances are you already have plenty. As a leader, it’s no longer your time to shine, but your time to call the shots and rewrite the rules so you can ensure others shine brighter than you ever did. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.