OffMarket – Detroit, Michigan

By Jacob Behrmann

After interning in the City of Detroit for the last two summers, I knew that I wanted to pursue an idea that allowed me to continue similar work in the City, the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI) Small Grant has allowed my group and I to do just this.

Our project, OffMarket, centered around building software that would scrape data off of the internet to identify distressed properties in the City of Detroit that may be attractive to either non-profit or for-profit entities. Our hope is that these entities would then use the software to acquire and redevelop these distressed properties to increase positive property density in Detroit.

The experience BLI helped to facilitate affected my view of leadership by creating new ideas such as leadership is a multifaceted platform where there can be multiple leaders. For example, our project team consisted of two other University of Michigan students, we had to agree upon decisions and come to mutual agreements on how to successfully proceed. Through this open communication channel, we knew regardless of who made the end decision, we could always share our thoughts.

This is experience helped me grow as a leader in numerous ways. One of these ways was interacting with different stakeholders for our project. To progress on our project, we hired a Computer Science Engineer at UM. We had to diligently work with him during our weekly meetings. I was able to grow as a leader because I learned new ways to communicate successfully with people who were part of the project, and also effectively lead others to have a successful outcome.

Leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. It does not matter if there is one project leader and many participants, or the group has all project leaders, everyone must always work together. This was a common theme throughout our summer project. We constantly stressed teamwork. We did this by always having an open channel of communication to share any idea, creating a sense of community/teamwork for our contractor, and also understanding everyone’s responsibilities.

Our group is thankful for the opportunity the Barger Leadership Institute awarded us and plan to continue pursuing projects in the City of Detroit.

Dynamix Wheels/AOE Medical – Ann Arbor, MI

We have found that most of the leadership lessons that we learned were learned when we had problems. For example, we found that it was difficult to as a group co-ordinate our schedules and what needed to be done as a team. To solve this, I stepped up and had to learn how to create schedules and find ways to motivate each individual on the team to not only organize their free time but to also get their individual tasks done. On the team we have also learned huge lessons in terms of leadership when it comes to team work. We are often consulting outside people as mentors and contractors. While working with these people it is often hard to find a balance between requesting help or giving a task and being open to their criticism, feedback, or advice. One of the hardest things to learn, at least I have found, is how to take critical advice on a project that you are deeply vested in. Sometimes it is hard to truly listen to someone else’s ideas especially if they are counter to your own beliefs. These past few months have challenged everyone on the team to become a better leader by really listening to those around them. Listening has affected our leadership not only in receiving feedback for our project but also in our style of dealing with each other.

As on any team we have had some team conflict. When there are issues within the team over opinions, attitudes, or styles of teamwork we have to figure out how to listen to each other and really understand how we can compromise, explain, or change the way we are acting in order to solve the problem. Personally, this happened to me back in June. I was feeling a little down about the progress of the project and was being sarcastic at the office and making comments that could be interpreted negatively about the project and the team. I meant the comments as jokes and way to alleviate the stress I was feeling; however, these comments were taken negatively by a few members of my team. It took Darren stepping up and having a conversation with me about my attitude for me to even realize that I was doing it and accept that I needed to change the way I was behaving in the work place. Those conversations, especially when on a team with people who are your friends or that you have worked with for a long time, can be tricky, awkward, and painful, but they need to be had. I think that experience highlights one of our greatest qualities as a team and that is the ability of any team mate despite position or chain order of command to step up and be a leader when there is a problem.

Another leadership lesson we learned concerning listening was that you need to not only listen to mentors and to your team mates, but you need to be attuned and listen to the things that are unsaid. Sadly we have been through the process of having team members become less interested or unmotivated in the group. This has been something that was extremely difficult to deal with. When one of your members is having insecurities or problems that are often unrelated to the project it can be a tricky step between work and social life in terms of how to deal with that member. In our case, we learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is offer a hand, reduce the workload, and work with that member to do everything you can to make them happy first before working toward how they can help the team.

To summarize some of the main lessons in leadership we learned were that to be a real leader you need to: be open to listening to other people, especially when their view point differs from yours, be open to dealing with conflict in a constructive manner rather than a critical one, accept that you aren’t perfect and can’t control things that happen in the lives of those around you, and most of all just try. A real leader will never stop trying to improve or be better, like a startup a leader must keep plugging away trying to become better every step of the way. These are just some of the lessons we learned, I could not even fit one hundredth of the different experiences, trials, or moments that taught us different lessons about ourselves and leadership over the past 6 months, but I can say that this experience has forever changed the way I work in a team environment and even act on a daily basis. Without it, I would not be the leader I am and probably wouldn’t be capable of seeing the leader I want to be.