Working on the Leader in the Mirror

Katie Cano ’16, Political Science, is the 2014-2015 student Commissioner on the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Katie Cano

One of my earliest memories features a four-year-old me, dejected and bitter, sitting in my kindergarten class thinking that I would be a better Class President than the boy chosen by the classmates with whom I spent six hours a day. Even then I felt like I needed to prove to people that I could be someone.

As time passed, others saw that I had potential; I earned leadership roles in various organizations in my high school. I felt like the support I had earned from other people was something I deserved, because I knew that I could produce results, which I equated to leadership.

However, as I attempted bigger and bigger projects, I lost more and more friends. My peers didn’t like me. Sure, teachers praised me, and my parent’s friends thought that I was the vision of a perfect child, but my fellow students were the ones who could have helped me accomplish my goals, and most of them wanted nothing to do with me.

By the end of my senior year, I had raised thousands of dollars, was the leader of various local and even statewide organizations, and had won college scholarships and contributed hundreds of volunteer hours. And I had no friends. Despite all the plaques and awards I had acquired, I was a miserable person.

Throughout high school, I attributed my misery to other people’s small-mindedness. It’s just lonely on the top, I told myself.

Finally—after a very lonely friendless summer before starting college—I  realized that everyone had a problem with me, because I was the problem! I was bossy, I micromanaged, I was cold with people, and I had no sympathy for everyone who had to deal with my terrible leadership. I was an ugly manager. I was the complete opposite of a good leader. I decided that when I got to UMBC, I would do things differently.

During my freshman year of college, I forced myself to listen more and observe the leadership styles of my classmates. I saw that people had teams, and coalitions. It wasn’t one shining star fixing the world. It became very clear to me that it wasn’t worth being a big shot if other people weren’t growing with me. I became determined to stop inadvertently hurting and disrespecting the people who were trying to work with and support me. I wanted to help others accomplish their goals, celebrate my peers’ accomplishments, be a part of a collective, and create a sky full of stars. I wanted to be much more humble.

I still struggle with being a micromanager, taking on too much, and expecting too much of people. Recognizing those obnoxious traits in myself has brought me down to Earth, and deflated my enormous ego. Those natural inclinations force me to constantly work on myself, and that’s okay.

I’m taking on a completely new leadership role this year: the student commissioner of the Maryland Higher Education Commission. I’ll be representing all higher education students in Maryland. That responsibility is pretty overwhelming. I’m going to remember my past leadership roles though. I’m going to remember what worked and what failed. I’m going to remind myself to listen more than I rant. I’m going to be humble and recognize that there is so much for me to learn from others. I’m going to be the best leader that I can and try to help as many people as I can. I’ll never be a perfect leader, but I’ll always be ready and willing to grow.

Contact the author, Katie Cano, at


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