M-LEAD, an integrative leadership education collective, launched a Leadership Lens series on LinkedIn where they interview students from across campus to hear their leadership insights, highlight that leadership is more than a position, and reinforce the notion that anyone can be a leader.

MLEAD interview with Olivia O’Connell

 What makes a leader great?

Great leaders come in all different forms, and I don’t think that there is only one personality type that is unique to strong leadership. A great leader is someone who has an open mind, is actively inclusive and identity-affirming, and takes time to ask themselves, “What can I learn from this experience and from these people?” in every situation.

What is an example of a time when your values informed your leadership?

I have a wholehearted commitment to creating the most socially just environment that I can within my organizations and leadership roles. Specifically as a woman with a disability, I am conscious of making sure to foster an accessible and inclusive space within the organizations that I am a part of. These values inform my leadership decisions as I work to include alt text, closed captions, and other accessibility features into
activities and events that I plan.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t think they can lead or doesn’t think of themselves as a leader?

Anyone can be a leader, and I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone does lead, no matter how subconsciously, in some way within their lives. Simple acts such as helping someone else, teaching a skill to a friend or colleague, collaborating to plan an activity or event, or even taking the initiative to clean up your apartment for your roommate could all be counted as leadership experiences. Don’t sell yourself short, your efforts and actions are 100% leading the way for someone, and there is no perfect way to be a leader!

With great power comes great responsibility. What do you do to build and maintain trust while also holding people accountable?

I have found setting clear (but also flexible) boundaries, rooted in social justice, to be a great foundation for building trust among peers and within student orgs. Additionally, challenging yourself and being able to accept and act in criticism can be a game changer for making sure that everyone, including yourself, is held accountable in an equitable and appropriate way.

What is the motivation behind your leadership?

I am motivated in my leadership by my desire to empower others to accept and love themselves and their identities. In all the work that I do, from political organizing to social advocacy, I am motivated to take the lead by my desire to educate and learn from others, to promote social justice, and to grow in my own understanding of myself and my peers.

What is on your mind right now related to leadership?

While leadership does exist in many forms, one of the most recognizable varieties of leadership is leading through public service. Both our country and our world need more young people, more of Gen Z, leading in the political sphere. Our generation will be true warriors for change, and the hope and optimism for the future that comes with that realization have been on my mind a lot lately.

Olivia O’Connell is a sophomore at the University of Michigan double majoring in political science and history, and planning to write a thesis as a part of the Honors Program. She works as a Team Lead for the Center for Campus Involvement, as an Applied Leadership Fellow for the Barger Leadership Institute, and as the Social Media Coordinator for the Global Scholars Program. Additionally, Olivia serves as the Communications Committee Chair on Central Student Government, the Outreach Director of College Democrats at UM, a Consultant with Michigan Political Consulting, and a member of the 54th Public Service Internship Program Cohort. Off-campus, she is the President of the American Council of the Blind’s National Student Affiliate. She takes an active role in empowering young students and women with disabilities to become changemakers in their communities. Olivia is passionate about human rights, social justice, civic education, and involvement, as well as about studying the nuances and complexities of history.

About MLEAD. M-LEAD is a collective of leadership educators who connect students to opportunities that empower them to create change on campus and in their community. This mission is rooted in a vision that all University of Michigan students will have access to leadership education and opportunities that empower and prepare them to create positive, sustainable change on their campus and in their community.