In August 2013, I joined a global organisation that positively impacted my life in ways I could never have imagined.
AIESEC is the global youth network impacting the world through leadership development experiences. Present in over 124 countries and territories and with over 86,000 members, AIESEC is the world's largest youth-run organisation. As a platform for youth leadership development, it offers young people the opportunity to volunteer or intern abroad, take part in team and leadership experiences and participate in a global learning environment.
AIESEC is essentially a global business run by university students - as with any business, there are various functions that play a pivotal role to the overall success of the organisation. During my AIESEC experience, I was fortunate enough to experience working in Talent Management and Finance before I found my home in Business Development; I was elected the Director of this portfolio for 2014/15.
As the Director of Business Development at AIESEC at the University of Queensland (UQ), I secured internships for top quality international graduates, placing them in Queensland-based companies. In this capacity, I led a team of 4 Business Development Officers to represent the voice of global youth, and to create future leaders with a global and innovative perspective.
During my term, leads contacted and meetings booked increased by 280% and 260%. Additionally, AIESEC UQ's Business Development team placed 4th out of 11 teams in a 6 month nationwide AIESEC sales competition (January - June 2014). This was a great result when compared to last year's position for the same period (11th out of 11 teams). My team and I also secured AIESEC UQ's first internship contract in the past three years.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing...
Here are the 5 lessons I learnt along the way:
Lesson 1: You Must Find Your WHY
When I joined AIESEC, I remember our Local Committee President calling me a "cartoon character with money bags as eyes". Truth be told, I had no driving purpose when I joined. All I cared about was business that maxmised profit above everything. However through AIESEC, I quickly came to realise the error in my thinking. Through a series of unplanned thought provoking conversations with members of my local chapter, I realised my true calling - supporting the advancement of the African continent. This effectively made me a better leader, as I was able to link my passion for Africa to AIESEC's mission of "peace and fulfilment of humankind's potential". In finding my WHY, AIESEC didn't feel like work at all and I was able to inspire my team to reach heights we never thought were possible.
Lesson 2: Embrace Failure
Sadly, I started my term as Director of Business Development with no team. I had very few people to lean on and I had never made a cold call in my life. I certainly remember my first few cold calls...they were terrible. I was very nervous and didn't sound confident at all. However, as I continued to make calls, I steadily got better. I still failed, but with every call I improved, learning and fine-tuning my strategy. The lesson here: It is ok to fail as long as you fail forward. Learn from each and every failure!
Lesson 3: Quality Over Quantity
In January 2014, the university semester commenced and it was time for me to recruit my team. I had decided I was going to recruit seven people in order to reach our goals for the year. The first four hires were great; they are actually all in leadership roles within our organisation this year. These four high quality members would have been more than enough to reach our goals. Unfortunately with lucky number seven in my head, I made a series of poor recruitment decisions that hurt the team in the long term. As I proceed with my entrepreneurial endeavours, I always think back to this experience when making recruitment decisions.
Lesson 4: To Motivate/Inspire, You Must Be a Leader, Coach and Mentor
Before AIESEC, I had little experience in leading a group of people. It's safe to say that motivating and inspiring a group of 18-20 year old volunteers to cold call companies day in day out was one of the hardest things I have done.
I quickly learnt a couple of things:
As a leader you must lead from the front. I distinctly remember my first meeting with the new recruits; none of them had cold calling experience. So, what I did was show them how it was done. Now I didn't make a sale over that phone call, but it was all about my team seeing me in action, talking confidently over the phone. This made them realise that "if he can do it, so can I".
Leading from the front is not enough, you also have to coach as well. When my team started making calls, I could see the mistakes they were making as I had made them myself back when I was a one-man team. Every Sunday we would therefore meet up and have a weekly debrief then, we would zero in on specific sales techniques that they could use in their work.
A mentor is something all leaders should be for their team members. From my personal experience, a mentor is someone who listens and gives advice based on his or her perspective. I don't claim to be the best mentor, but I was fortunate enough to be in a position with my degree program and business endeavors that I could mentor my team members to assist them in reaching their true potential.
Lesson 5: You Are What You Think
Upon joining AIESEC I discovered that AIESEC UQ had not secured an internship contract in over three years and that if my team and I did not secure in 2014, AIESEC UQ would cease to exist. At the time this was a significant amount of pressure - the existence of the organisation I loved rested on the efforts of my team and I!
Through my own personal readings I have discovered that successful people are fundamentally no different than the rest of the population; they just think differently. So I implemented a "policy" within my team that required all of us to dress in corporate attire every time we made cold calls together. What did this do? They started believing they were business development professionals calling companies rather than volunteering university students. As a result of this policy, we were all more confident, spoke with greater conviction and were less easily deterred by rejection when we made calls. This change in mentality contributed directly to us securing AIESEC UQ's first internship contract in 3 years.
Nkosana is a 20 year-old Zimbabwean Australian philanthropist, entrepreneur, writer and speaker passionate about social and economic development. At present, he is the Founder of Shanda Enterprises and the Council for Young Africans Living Abroad (CYALA).
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