Contributed by
TAIWO ODUNOWO
2017 Bezos Scholar
Categories
Student Stories

A Leadership Journey: From Democratic to Transformational

A few weeks ago, an unexpected epiphany struck me at our weekly Orange-College Awareness Day (O-CAD) Monday meeting. An epiphany that transcended my thoughts as a leader, and revealed to me, what it means to be a transformational leader.

Our team meeting started off like any other of our meetings: sharing updates. Afterwards, we transitioned into a discussion about upcoming events and how to embrace building sustainability. The idea of building sustainability became a daunting task. Initially, we had to decide what we wanted O-CAD to be: a one-time two-day festival, or a formal program that transcends each year. This year’s O-CAD was a two-day Festival that provided actionable steps for Orange High School students to take control of their college applications. Though it took more than three-fourths of an hour, the team consensus was to turn O-CAD into a formal program that would culminate in a two-day festival.

After overcoming this barrier, our team discussed who we wanted O-CAD to benefit. My initial thought, and the demographic of this year’s Local Ideas Festival, was that we wanted it to benefit the students of Orange High School who saw this program as an opportunity to prepare for and learn more about college opportunities. “Easy, we already know this,” I thought.

The team seemed to agree, however, one team member, Leo, stood out and challenged my thought. He questioned why we wouldn’t expand O-CAD to help everyone. He asked the team to consider what an Essex County College Awareness Day or a New Jersey College Awareness Day could look like.

I stared at him and responded, “Pause! Bro what? No, we’re not going to do that.”

We argued back and forth. The rest of the team tried to be voices of reason, but our bickering overshadowed their thoughts. I explained to Leo, “The mission and vision of O-CAD isn’t to carry the burden of others. We can only worry about the Orange High School community, not the county or the state.”

Still, he stood firm in his belief, and with great conviction, explained that we should help everyone that’s in need of our help.

At that moment, an epiphany struck me. I sat in silence as he continued to make his case. As he did, I thought to myself, “What kind of leader am I if I’m discouraging someone else off their vision and thoughts? What does that say about me as a leader? As a person?”

After this epiphany, I was able to find peace within myself, and support Leo’s idea. I realized that—as opposed to my democratic leadership style—I wanted to embody this transformational leadership style, and learned that if someone I lead is embodying a different leadership style, it’s not a bad thing. I should encourage this.

Although my educator, Hooman Behzadpour and I had created the paradigm for O-CAD, I realized that in order to build sustainability, I have the utmost responsibility to give my support and encouragement to a passionate leader who wants to transcend our original vision.

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Contributed by
TAIWO ODUNOWO
2017 Bezos Scholar
Categories
Student Stories

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