For the second consecutive year, Illinois Institute of Technology’s M.A. and Lila Self Leadership Academy is the winner of both the Collegiate Leadership Competition’s annual Ohio Valley Region competition and its international competition.
The Collegiate Leadership Competition is a nonprofit, educational leadership initiative engaging more than 88 universities and 1,000 students around the world. It offers students the opportunity to apply leadership skills and receive coaching and feedback on their performance through competition. In 2018 Illinois Tech’s Leadership Academy sent its first team to the Great Lakes Region championship, and the group advanced to the international championship, receiving the competition’s first-ever perfect results score.
Christopher Hui (ME 4th year), a graduating student in mechanical engineering, was a member of the winning team both years.
“One thing that stood out at both [the 2018 and 2019] competitions was that we were the only STEM school there, with our team made up of scientists and engineers,” Hui says. “In truth, some of these STEM skills helped us in certain activities these two years, but I believe that there is more to leadership than this. While we may have solved problems differently than perhaps marketing or business majors, leadership is not exclusive to a certain major or profession. Rather, leadership skills are practiced and learned, and must be driven by a genuine vision of service toward others.”
Fifty-seven colleges and universities from the United States and Canada participated in the 2019 competition, which was composed of six team-based activities. Each competing team worked together to construct a domino chain, replicate a picture pixel by pixel, play a Jeopardy!-style game about the failures of leadership, take part in an elevator pitch challenge, participate in a silent coordination activity, and complete a series of brainteasers.
“During the first activity, the domino chain, we were initially given a score of zero due to a technicality when multiple teams’ chains fell right at the completion time,” Hui says. “Despite this setback within the first hour of the competition, our team continued forward and everyone continued to give their best. Though the activities were solved with technical or problem-solving skills, I truly believe what helped our team succeed was focusing on the process and on our support of each other.”
The judges were looking for more than just a team’s ability to complete the task at hand, says Asma Shuaibi (BME 3rd year).
“[They] observed how we worked together as a team and what process we went through in solving the problems,” Shuaibi says.“One of the greatest foundations of the success of a team is trust.”
This year's team members, coached by Leadership Academy Program Manager Meghan Pickett, prepared for three months in advance of the competition, focusing on improving their process (how well the team worked together) and product (how quickly and accurately the team completed the challenges).
“My team members grew to trust each other and learn of each other’s strengths,” Shuaibi says. “We constantly thought about the process. While competing, my team dedicated a portion of time in hashing out the problem and thinking of multiple strategies we could use to solve it.”
In the end, practicing and competing proved to be an eye-opening experience for both Shuaibi and Hui.
“I have learned a lot about my own leadership style,” Shuaibi says. “[Practicing] allowed me to notice my own strengths and weaknesses as both a leader and a follower. I was able to practice in developing myself to be a better team member overall.”
For Hui, competing these past two years taught him the power of effective teamwork.
“The dynamic in both years’ teams was not something I had ever seen or experienced before,” Hui says. “It was incredible seeing how well our group worked, becoming far more than the sum of our parts.”