How do you summarize six years of experience in AIESEC into one blog post?
In my six years in AIESEC, I have traveled to 15 countries and interacted with people from 70+ nationalities. I’ve worked with six different teams and I’ve lead three of them on a local, national, and global level. I’ve been the face of AIESEC towards our members, youth customers, advisors and corporate and non-corporate partners. I’ve been responsible for 1.500+ volunteers and seven digit budgets. I’ve failed many times, and I’ve achieved many times.
In front of me is a list with 50+ points I have learned about myself, about people, about leading and managing teams and organizations, and above all about the world. I wish I could tell you about every single one of them. But in the end, this is a blog post, and you will spend on average a maximum of seven minutes reading it. Summarizing everything into seven minutes would be an act of oversimplifying that wouldn’t honor all the people I’ve met and worked with, everything AIESEC has provided me with, and above all your context and precious time as a reader.
This leaves me with an apparently unsolvable question: which point is most valuable for you?
Should I tell you how AIESEC made me realize the importance of having a purposeful life, a life that is not about me but about my contribution to a better world?
Should I rather write how, when leading AIESEC in Germany, I truly understood the full meaning and power of “standing up for what you believe in”?
Should I keep it more practical and share my best advice on managing teams with you?
Or should I write how I got a glimpse on true global responsibility when I worked for the global team with a responsibility for 120+ countries and territories?
The difficulty of choosing between these questions resembles one important lesson about leadership AIESEC taught me: as a leader you constantly need to search the right balance between over-simplifying and over-complicating. This responsibility is probably one of the toughest of being a leader because nobody can tell you what the right balance is. It’s all up to your decision, and you, only you, will have to bear the consequences. Will you explain to your team the whole eight weeks thinking process you went through or only tell them the result? When making a decision on what strategy to focus on, how many days or weeks will you invest into analyzing the possible outcomes? How simple does your purpose statement need to be for people to internalize it while providing enough information to be a compass for all decisions? Is your personal mission to “To live a life full of happiness” or “To do 1.,2., 3., …., 30 in order to be happy”?
The difficulty of these and other decisions have been my constant companion through all experiences in AIESEC. The more responsibility I gained in AIESEC the tougher it got. For me, and for the people around me. The more diversity and complexity we had to face, the more tempting it became to fall for simplified dogmas. “Follow your passion.”, “Get Sh** Done”, “Stay Focused”, sound all great until you need to put your passion into words, balance 12 different responsibilities, or create a global strategy for 120+ countries.
There are some tools helped me to balance over-simplifying and over-complicating:
- Frameworks and models make it easier to work with complexity and to communicate. But, only use them if you understand the bigger theory behind them. Otherwise, you are falling for over-simplifying.
- Despite having everything a few clicks away online, being well-read and having a broad, diverse knowledge makes it a lot easier to connect the dots and distinguish the right speed and right depth.
- When you feel you are over-simplifying or over-complicating, have two conversations: one with a person that knows a lot about the topic and one with someone who doesn’t know anything. This will make it obvious for you where you stand.
- Your gut. It is difficult to be fully aware of every piece of information in a specific moment, but if you feed your brain a lot of information and learn how to listen your gut, your internal computer will provide you with the right decision aka gut-feeling.
But these are all imperfect tools that can help only depending on the context. No matter if it is about leading a team, leading an organization, or above all leading yourself, the final decision will always have to be made by you. This is what makes leading so tough and following so easy. Every time you need to make a decision for the right balance, it will cost you energy. It will require you to learn, digest, prioritize and then decide. But at the same time, it is also the beauty of leadership. Nobody can take these decisions away from you. It’s all in your hand.
And so the ultimate sign of your leadership will be the decisions you take. Your actions will always speak louder than your words.21