Lessons Learned from The Game

Bella Zhang participated in the 2016-2017 cohort of The Game. This is a reflection on her experiences with the program and the lessons she learned.

The concept of leadership today has become a glazing icon. When you are job hunting, you are usually told to highlight your leadership experience in your resume and interviews. Is leadership simply a category of experience or skills? I believe it is much more than that. I like the parable between being a leader and being the light. The ultimate form of leadership comes from the heart, and it takes hard and thoughtful work.

Reflecting on my experience in ILead’s The Game, one of the biggest challenges I encountered was how to motivate and engage the team members. School is hard and life is demanding – what inspires us to make a difference?

I found that it is important for leaders to cultivate a discipline to rethink and reflect. To empower others, we need to be empowered first. There are many ways to get recharged. For example, reading books on leadership, being inspired by other leaders and talking with experienced mentors. These new ideas and conversations can help one to ask better questions in complex situations. Your team may seem uninspired, but you can be the one that makes the daily decision to take the responsibility, renew the motivation and inspire others along.

An important lesson I took away from my experience with The Game is to adapt leadership in a timely and thoughtful manner. One way to achieve that is to commit to periodical, authentic and honest conversations with the whole team, where schedules, tasks, and timelines can be shared, and where we can re-establish a new sense of accountability.

The second lesson is to listen actively and deeply, to your stakeholders. To put it simply, active listening means being fully present and engaging during the conversations. Listening deeply is really understanding and even analyzing their responses. By building a thoughtful and meaningful connection, an initial “no” can be overturned to a “maybe” or even “YES!”

Another leadership lesson I learned is to leverage the team strengths and weaknesses of your team. Valuing your team members’ strengths through the eyes of appreciation gives the team motivation and inspiration. People feel good talking about their strengths rather than weaknesses. However, it is also very important for a leader to thoughtfully consider the other side of the coin. What are the strengths missing in my team? How can I step up to engage others so as to balance the biases of my team?

Lastly, The Game made me realize the surprisingly big potential for me to act as a game changer in society. When I was a child, I often thought that one had to reach a certain power position in order to make meaningful change in the world. The social impact my team has achieved in the past six months was much more than we expected at the beginning. We do not need to wait to be at a certain position to contribute to social changes. By understanding the system, making meaningful connections, and utilizing our problem-solving skills, we can start the change now!

-Bella Zhang