“Putting yourself out there is in fact very rewarding”, TRSS President, Brad Wells, on leadership and navigating student life
New Light Network is a place to learn from professionals and students, as well as engaging them with one another, while also gaining fresh insights and learning from diverse experiences. For the first episode, the host of NLN, Anirudh Anand, joined our president, Brad Wells, to explore the challenges and successes of being a student leader at Ryerson University. Read some of the highlights from their discussion and check out the full episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts to learn more!
Are you an infinite player?
“I definitely, I would say an infinite player. I really agree with all that you said about always having that mindset and always trying to be the best or compete with everybody. But it’s just not sustainable long term. It’s just finding that balance to continue it long term. […] Just going to classes, doing your homework and then going home isn’t enough. It’s so important to stop and take advantage of these experiential learning opportunities to learn things. You can’t just learn in the classroom because that’s not what’s really going to set you apart. […] We’re going to graduate with the same degree, but how is that going to make you stand out? When 13,000 people have that same degree, how am I going to take the edge on an employer with whom we’re both competing for the job? That was kind of my mindset and that’s why I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. […] It’s not the degree that will make you who you are, it’s what you make of the degree. […] If you want these higher roles, you really need to put yourself out there, get your name out there, be involved.”
Bay and Dundas
“People were waiting, lining up to get it. They couldn’t get it. They dragged it out for a month before they got their hands on this exclusive product. And it was a genius business. […] Last year we did an Instagram feature and three of the four students that we posted weren’t even business students, they were from other faculties within Ryerson. So it was amazing to see the fact that three other members of different faculties wanted Bay and Dundas apparel. […] My favourite memory was last summer, I woke up to a text. Somebody had sent me a Twitter thread that somebody had tweeted saying “I’m walking in Toronto and I saw somebody wearing a Bay and Dundas sweater. What is the significance of this intersection?” And there were over a hundred responses to this Twitter thread because it was by a verified user and people were left guessing as to what it was. It’s just the fact that somebody saw it on the street and thought enough about it to tweet it […] We hire apparel managers and essentially get to run this brand that does tens of thousands of dollars of revenue annually. They get to decide for that year, the direction of the brand, launch new products, take away old ones, pop-up sales, and run online web stores. You get to run your own business. This apparel team is like a dream for anybody interested in starting their own clothing brand.
I am Brad, just Brad
“Every decision that I make, whether it be for students or even sometimes in my personal life, has a ripple effect and how that impacts so many people and every decision. Especially with TRSS, every decision we make there impacts up to 12–13,000 students. […] For this year, you’re top of the food chain but like nobody’s ever at the top of the food chain forever. Sure, you have one of these high-up roles in the university. In two years, you will graduate and you’ll be at the bottom of the food chain again. So it’s really important for me to stay humble about my position. […] I never want to introduce myself as Brad, the president of TRSS. I just want to be Brad. […] I’m going to move onto different things in the future. So staying humble is super super important to me because I didn’t want to be that person who isn’t, because I don’t think that those people are very effective leaders and I don’t think they actually get things done.
“Leadership is 100% a lifestyle and it’s providing for the people under you or the people beside you, or that you’re working with and finding the opportunity to thrive, motivate and empower them. […] No matter if the person I’m working for is someone above me or there’s somebody working below me, I always think it’s so important that everybody feels the same. There’s a huge difference between being a leader and being a manager. A lot of people fail to realize that.”
How do you inspire?
My biggest thing is like, I don’t want to be a micromanager. As somebody who’s passionate about what I do, I hate it when somebody is breathing down my neck, having to run decisions by people and not just being able to just do it. A big thing for me when I was starting this position is that I want everyone to feel empowered just to do. […] I once had a team member that was coming to me with every big decision. They were always calling me to see what I thought and I told them, ‘Just do what you want to do. If you want to do it this way, go for it. Sometimes I’ll give people, you know, this is the end goal, this is what I need to see happen. I don’t care how you get there, just get there because everybody’s going to find their own way to get there and do it their way, which I think would work better than if I was there every step of the way. I think it empowers them more too because when there’s somebody breathing down your neck, you’re afraid of messing up. […] I think it’s important for leaders to know that […] when you mess up, you don’t want to be afraid. You want to take it as a learning opportunity. […] I also learned with TRSS that if I was worried about every little detail, it was going to affect me physically, mentally, emotionally. So taking a step back and realizing it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay for things not to be perfect or not be the way I envisioned it visually, it will still turn out great.”
People are a hard shell to crack, how do you deal with them?
“I watch for signs. When I first meet someone, I try to kind of assume what they think. If they’re not the most outgoing person and I cannot see the signs, I always ask them straight up, what leadership style do you respond to best? Some people do want to be micromanaged and they do want you to check in with them every step of the way. Other people just want the end goal, and then they want to take the project and go do their own thing.”
TRSS Team Engagement
“Despite COVID-19, I genuinely think that last year, our TRSS team of 71 people was more engaged than ever before. We got to do things like virtual happy hours or virtual games nights and random late-night calls on Discord. We never had a platform like that. We’ve always used slack or professional platforms that don’t foster a lot of communication. Other committee members made friends with other committee members when they never would in the past. Being virtual separated barriers.”
How do you trust people?
“I think the opposite of the mindset that trust is earned and not given. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and just trust everyone off the bat. It has surprised me and has saved that extra step of gaining trust. […] Because I know from my own personal bias, if there’s somebody who I don’t trust off the bat, I’m never going to trust them. I’m always, no matter what they do, I’m going to think they’re not trustworthy, even if it’s not right. So for me, automatically give trust until I’ve been given a reason not to, I think it’s been super helpful for me.”
What does consistency mean in the context of leadership?
“Consistency for me is a battle because you want to be consistent in the sense that people want to know how you operate and they understand you, but you don’t want to be too consistent. Traditions are great and I’ve said this to many students/student leaders in the past, told them that traditions are awesome, but sometimes we just do traditions because they’re comfortable. No company in the world has ever been successful with just going with traditions. […] Innovations happen because people are willing to be uncomfortable and are willing to try new things. […] So while traditions are really great, especially in the sense of student life and student leadership, it’s so important to break tradition. I think consistency is good to a point. It’s nice to be consistent with how I act and operate. I want to stay consistent with how I lead and my leadership style, but in terms of thinking, in terms of just the operations, I want to be as inconsistent as possible because that’s when new ideas are formed. That’s when we see things flourish and grow, and where innovation happens. […] I think really finding that perfect balance of consistency and inconsistency is key. […] We have a Ted Rogers Management Conference, the biggest conference that we have had. It’s one of the largest business conferences for students in North America. Nobody remembers who the fourth chair was, or the third/second chair of the conference. People remember who was the first chair because they’re the ones that step out of the box during this conference. People remember the chairs for all the significant milestone years who brought in amazing guest speakers, completely changed the course of the conference. People remember those people because they were willing to break tradition. But the people who just kind of upheld the traditions were consistent. They didn’t have much of an impact. I really wanted to drive that message home to the student leaders; that it’s okay to not bring traditions because sometimes traditions aren’t even that good. And we just do them because we are comfortable. […] I think hindsight is one of those things that is really important to have. But also at the same time, I don’t want to let it hold me back.”
“I think it’s really important to know, recognize and acknowledge, you know, hindsight, what you should have done, but just to learn from it. But instead of focusing on how I made that mistake or how that ended up, I really want to focus on how it’s going to change for the future, and how I’m not going to make that same mistake again. […] In my personal life and professional life, there have definitely been so many mistakes or so many things that I wish I would have done differently. But at the end of the day, I always try and think of it as, what did I learn from that? And I really don’t want to dwell on that. As long as I don’t make the same mistake twice, I would say it’s still a success.”
Rewarding student habits
“Getting over the fear of what other people think I think is huge. Doing things for yourself and doing things outside your comfort zone. I am a firm believer of everything that happens, happens for a reason, good or bad.”
What is the most ambitious project that you’ve been a part of?
Most impactful is the culture shift for the organization that is TRSS. […] In just a few short months, we took that list of what people didn’t like or why everybody hates us. And used it to our advantage to make it why everybody likes us. How could we be better and do better? And by the end of the year, there was a shift.”
“Don’t do these positions for the wrong reasons because you’re not going to be very successful at it. If you want to make a change and difference, you’ve got to be really passionate about it. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time and commitment. I don’t necessarily think we see the reward right away. But I think it helps you so much down the line. I talk to recruiters all the time and when they see Ryerson student leader on your resume, they instantly want to hire you and put you on top of their resume pile because they know how Ryerson student leaders are, and that they can’t find it at any other university. None of them operate to the scale that we do, which was the deciding factor of me being a student at Ryerson. […] Student leadership is essentially a job. You learn time management, setting expectations, responsibilities, working on tasks and portfolios. You’re doing things you’re probably going to be doing in a professional environment like co-op. Really capitalize what you learn in these roles. […] There’s always going to be fear no matter what. Two years into this role I’ve been in, I have been in the same student group for four years now, and there are still times where I have had doubts in my mind about my role and fear. And with having that fear, it’s just finding a way to overcome that. If I hadn’t feared the outcome and made the decision, I wouldn’t have been here. […] I hope people get that it’s okay. I was not the loud one at frosh. I was not the one that was winning awards or being the one that everybody knew at the end of frosh. I was the complete opposite of that, I was the shy one that I didn’t talk to anybody because I was too afraid to really go out of my comfort zone. That’s okay because I think so many people start university and think that if they aren’t on top and that you don’t make a mark, they’re not going to get anywhere. But somebody sent this to me; you know, you go through high school, you come to universities the first year. Your grade 12 year looks a lot different than your first year at university because, in grade 12, you were on top of the food chain, having the best year ever. Then you come back to the university and you’re at the bottom again. I think it’s just realizing that it’s only going to get better. […]It’s so important for students and people listening to know that. They can make the most of what it is and if you’re not the loudest person, the most exciting or the one that everybody knows about at frosh, that’s okay. We see you’re over here. […] Putting yourself out there is in fact very rewarding. […] For years, I lost myself or not ended up in the direction I wanted to be. So I’m really grateful that I was able to find where I wanted to be, with all the people around me who helped get me there and kept me humble. People want to get things done and they want to create change, try to find the most effective way to do that.”