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Leadership Development, Personal Growth, NSLS Blog

Leadership Lessons We Learned in 2023

Another year has come and gone — can you believe it?

Throughout 2023, you’ve joined us on our continued journey to build better leaders, learning from your peers and from great leaders who joined us this year to share their wisdom. We’ve learned so many amazing things this year that it can be hard to keep track of them all!

That’s why we’ve gathered together just some of the many lessons we’ve gleaned from future leaders as well as those who are already successful.

What have you learned this year? We’d love to hear from you on Instagram or LinkedIn!

1. Great Leaders Advocate and Empower

Here at the NSLS, we believe that we achieve more together than we do alone. To build a better world, we must build a strong community of compassionate and effective leaders who work together toward something greater than themselves.

Successful leaders advocate for and empower others to work toward a better world — a world with less suffering that’s shaped by a diversity of voices.

We’ve seen this trait in so many of the leaders who have shared their wisdom with us. From defending LGBTQ+ rights to fighting antisemitism to ending period poverty and more, our guests and members alike have shown us how we can all become better leaders by building up others.

2. Mindfulness Makes Leaders Stronger

Life tends to throw stressors in our way. Even without crises, finding a healthy work-life balance can be difficult, especially for leaders.

That’s where mindfulness comes in. Practicing mindfulness is an effective strategy for dealing with stress, and it’s also a great way to aid in individual development, helping us to become the people we want to be. Mindfulness can be practiced through techniques like yoga, but it can also be practiced through breathwork or even just paying attention to simple daily actions, such as eating or brushing your teeth.

To become truly effective leaders, we must develop a certain level of awareness. Mindfulness can help us do this by helping us find our “why” and by reducing our unconscious bias

3. Communication is Key

You’ve probably heard it before, but we’ve reiterated it this year because it’s so important: Communication is an essential soft skill (or “durable” skill). It’s always been important for things like building relationships and trust, resolving conflict, and collaborating effectively, but it has become an even more vital skill in an age of increasing divisions, whether social or political.

On top of that, technology has increased the ways and formats in which we choose to communicate, and each form of technology comes with its own conventions. With such variety at our fingertips, we have to learn how to communicate effectively in many different formats.

The good news is that communication is a skill that can be learned. Check out our Best Practices for Effective Communication to start improving your ability to make yourself understood.

4. Better Mental Health is Essential

It’s become clear in recent years that we’re suffering a mental health crisis in the U.S., and teens are particularly at risk, especially after the isolation of COVID. 

This crisis needs to be solved across the board. To do so, we need leaders who have built the personal resilience they need to help others. We can only help others once we help ourselves, and untreated mental illness can make finding success and supporting others difficult.

Even today, there’s often a stigma around talking about mental illness, but it’s time to change that. That’s why we’re supporting leaders who are working to change minds about mental health.

Check out these strategies for protecting your mental health.

5. Physical Health Supports Mental Health & Success

When we’re busy, it’s easy to forget to take care of our physical health — less physical movement, more unhealthy foods, fewer trips to the doctor.

Physical health and mental health are far more intertwined than doctors once believed. The symptoms of poor physical health can lead to things like depression and anxiety, and mental illness can lead to things like high cortisol levels, poor sleep, and poor eating habits, which all lead to poor physical health, particularly if they are left untreated for prolonged periods.

To avoid worsening overall health and burnout, we have to make our health a priority. Even if you’re a busy leader or leader-to-be, make sure you set aside time to take care of yourself.

6. Volunteering Is Good for the Heart and Career

Making the world a better place through service is one of the pillars of the NSLS mission to build better leaders. Helping others through volunteer opportunities helps build a better world, and leaders who do so build compassion and empathy — skills that are essential to effective leadership.

Beyond the service-focused reasons for service, volunteering provides personal and career benefits, as well. Anna Taylor and Tim Taylor taught us in our November livestream that volunteering can jump-start our career goals by expanding opportunities and helping us build the durable skills that employers value in prospective employees.

Volunteering can also help us by healing loneliness, building self-esteem, and promoting longevity! Check out 12 more unexpected benefits of volunteering.

7. Diversity Drives Innovation

Emily Balcetis emphasized in our Fall Speaker Broadcasts that diversity drives innovation, and she’s absolutely right! Problem-solving and creative thinking can be enhanced when we bring a variety of perspectives into the conversation, which in turn will make organizations more effective.

Beyond that, diversity and a culture of openness and acceptance build trust within an organization, making it a place where everyone feels they have a right to be heard and contribute to making the organization better.

8. Be Strategic with Your Goals

Emily Balcetis also taught us about goal-making and strategic thinking, sharing her research on how successful people think and look at the world. Goal achievement involves finding the right balance between broad and specific goals and learning how to approach following through on plans, and Balcetis has observed just how the most successful leaders do this.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to set goals more effectively, try these goal-setting tips for students!

10. Community Breeds Stronger Leaders

Finally, in 2023 we learned just how important community is for creating stronger leaders. We learned about the importance of mentorship and networking for future success; each of these practices involves nurturing a strong sense of community in the professional context.

Leaders need a sense of community on a personal level, too. Having a support network helps build better mental health, improved teamwork, and a stronger ability to consistently learn and improve. Never be afraid to lean on your community.

We’ve learned some amazing lessons in 2023. We hope you take these lessons into 2024 to become better leaders and human beings as we work toward a brighter future!