A three-year long journey of leadership development, character building, and self-growth

Tuesday, May 25, 2021
by Jennie L., AFM student

The three lessons I learned from my three years leading the hEDGE Conference

Photo of Jennie
I admit I am a little sad to be signing off from the hEDGE Financial Services Conference executive team. These past three years I’ve spent organizing the conference have been one of the most rewarding yet challenging experiences. However, I would not have had it any other way. The hEDGE experience has forever transformed the way I think, lead, and work within a teamand it was definitely for the better. There were three key lessons I picked up over the years that I know will accompany me for the rest of my career.

Lesson 1: Being a leader sometimes means putting yourself last

I think as students when we’re put in positions of leadership, we often think that our visions and goals come first. After all, we’re supposed to be the ones crafting the strategy so the rest of the team can execute…right? Well, from my experience on hEDGE, I actually learned that it was quite the opposite. Being a leader means putting your team first, gauging their opinions, and formulating outcomes that serve us all. It also means picking up the unfinished pieces, being motivated when no one is, and ensuring that the team feels uplifted even when things take a turn for the worst. It’s not just about directing, being a leader means that I have to foster an environment that allows for collaboration because that is what produces the best outcomes.

Lesson 2: Resilience is a hidden key to success

I too am often amazed by the achievements of School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) students, whether it be winning and participating in case competitions, establishing new initiatives at the school, or running a virtual conference that used to be entirely in-person. However, I was once told by a wise teacher of mine that “all that glitters isn’t gold”. This phrase refers to the idea that what appears on the surface often masks what is going on in the background. When my team and I were planning the conference this year, I quickly learned that we were in for probably one of the biggest challenges that we’ve ever faced. Turning a complex, multi-layered conference with workshops, keynote presentations, and networking into a virtual event was no easy feat. And I really do mean no easy feat.

What appeared on the outside as an exquisitely planned conference required countless late nights, working on weekends, and giving up almost every ounce of personal time I had. Between juggling school and my other commitments, hEDGE was all that I did in my spare time. There were points during the past year that made me re-think whether I was capable of leading this conference and whether I could even come close to the success of my predecessors. And it was during those low points, that I had to pick myself up, put on a smile in front of my team and continue working. And those times were hard. Having to turn down calls with friends, not touching Netflix for weeks on end, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, there were moments where I lost confidence in my capability. But it was during those moments, that I had to show the most resilience and keep going even when it seems like the tides were against me. Remember, resilience is key. Without it, I would not have been able to lead such a great conference.

Lesson 3: Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

When organizing a conference with so many moving parts, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. At the beginning of my journey as the new Co-Head of hEDGE, I wanted to ensure that my team and I produced the highest quality of work. I wanted to make sure that every time we hosted an event, people would remember attending the hEDGE conference as a good experience. So as any detail-oriented person would do, I wanted to oversee everything. Every email, every sponsor presentation, every marketing poster, and every little mistake. This process of micro-managing myself required constant upkeep with every single detail of the conference, which made me lose sight sometimes of the bigger picture. I didn’t only demand myself to execute as a leader, but to also be the one to make up for every shortfall within my team. And slowly but surely, these unrealistic expectations I placed on myself became overwhelming.

The truth is you can’t do it all. As much as I wanted everything to work out exactly as planned, down to the very last detail, conferences are not meant to be perfect. I had to accept the fact that in order to achieve the overarching goal of hEDGE - which is to plan a conference that best serves our students’ interests - I had to let go a little bit. Getting caught up in every small detail won’t make a splash of a difference. Albeit important to be detail-oriented, don’t lose sight of what is ahead.

Although my time on the hEDGE conference executive team has come to an end, the lessons that I learned will be engraved in the way I lead, act, and work within a team. I encourage all students to be involved in hEDGE in any way they can, whether it be attending the conference one day or applying to be an executive team member, because it is truly a transformative experience.