UGSLA Recipient: Adrian Tanjala

Undergraduate Student Leader: Physiology

Adrian Tanjala
Photo courtsey of Adrian Tanjala
Adrian Tanjala

Having pursued a diverse breadth of leadership experiences, from well before my time at the University of Toronto until now, I have had the privilege and opportunity to develop my leadership philosophy. Good leadership is a seamless integration of the following three principles: exemplary knowledge translation, safety, and adaptability. 

Subject matter expertise is a natural prerequisite for a well-qualified leader, and indeed this reflects the nature of leadership. Leaders do not always occupy formal roles that charge them with directing others (a “boss”), but rather take initiative to inspire and motivate others by translating their expertise in an exemplary manner. I am a senior undergraduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Christine Bear (Physiology); while I have no formal leadership responsibilities stipulated, I’ve taken the opportunity to apply my knowledge of various methods to teach and mentor new lab members.

Particularly critical to good leadership is living by the values and skills I seek to translate; academic integrity and record-keeping are fundamental among these here, and I practice them both in private and publicly in front of students in order to emphasize their importance. A good leader, furthermore, values safety in collaborative environments.

An especially important and urgent dimension of safety is that relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion, as all individuals deserve to work and study in environments free of discrimination (whether explicit or implicit). I had the opportunity to live by this value in my time serving as a co-chair of the Anti-Discrimination taskforce at William Osler Health System, Ontario’s second-largest community hospital. I recognized the value of acknowledging my own biases and using the privilege I had (including that of being in a leadership role) to create a safe space for individuals to express their lived experiences of discrimination and make recommendations towards preventing such experiences from recurring. Leadership in safety surrounding equity and diversity demands a committed and open-minded approach to listening, learning, and amplifying voices; this creates environments where all members of a team feel safe to express their identities and perspectives fully.

Finally, adaptability is a critical component of good leadership. Whether formal responsibilities stipulate it, knowledge translation demands that good leaders adapt their approach per the individual they’re working with, which I did through my role as the Head Referee of North Toronto Soccer. I engaged in casual one-on-one conversations, where officials could feel at ease to share their thoughts on their progress and development. Based on those, I developed a spreadsheet-based system for tracking official progress, and this has resulted in increased retention (>90%) and the forwarding of six match officials to advanced matches in the province of Ontario. I continue to work towards generating a positive environment for my staff to learn and grow in, which will strongly support community wellness through sport in north Toronto. 

Adaptability, however, also applies to my own values. While these values represent my present philosophy, I am constantly working to self-reflect and adjust them as my ongoing experiences help inform what the ‘ideal leader’ looks like.