Photo courtesy of Illinois Tech Leadership Academy
Hamza Khan, a senior from Karachi, Pakistan, is majoring in computer engineering and minoring in software engineering. Throughout his time at Illinois Tech, Khan has been highly involved; currently, he is one of three Senior Resident Advisors for the Office of Residence Life. After graduation, he will be working as a software developer for Grubhub. Khan is passionate about the social impact of technology, and he aspires to use his technical skills to create some type of positive change in the world. He takes a lot of inspiration from Leadership Academy alumnus Emmanuel Klu, who is a software engineer at Google working towards positive social impact and building transformative teams,
Question: What do you think makes you a good leader?
Khan: I feel my strengths are adaptability and spontaneity. My father was a military commander and because of that, I moved around a lot when I was growing up. I’ve lived in 15 different cities and studied in 11 different schools. Each time I moved, I would have to adjust to the new social constructs and norms that particular school had. These numerous adjustments aided in me developing my strengths.
Q: What do you think is vital for anyone to be a good leader?
K: The most important thing for any leader to have is empathy. Being able to understand how others perceive a certain situation not only helps build your relationship with that person, but also allows different perspectives to be brought into discussion, and builds unity among a team. Another important aspect is being able to learn from your mistakes. If you are not making mistakes, then you are not challenging yourself enough.
Q: What would you say is an event or time in your life that really turned you into a leader?
K: There are three events in my life that stand out as being crucial to my leadership development:
While in high school, I was extremely competitive and overconfident. There was a particular competition where I was going to run the 100 meter sprint. On the day of the competition, the finish line markings had been changed. The new way the track was set up, the 200 meter finish line actually appeared before the 100 meter finish line. The race began, and I was way ahead of everyone else. I ran until I hit what I thought was the finish line, but turned out to be the finish marker for the 200 meter. I stood there proud of myself for beating everyone until I saw the rest of the people run past me and kept running. At this point I had realized my mistake, and I was devastated. I learned a huge lesson in humility that day. I needed that failure to knock me down so that I could rebuild myself to be more humble and understand that I don’t know everything.
Another key event was the death of my uncle. His son was 16 years old at the time and we have always been best friends. When his father became ill, I was completely helpless; we all were. I learned a lesson in emotional intelligence, staying strong in situations that are unexpected, and the importance of empathy.
The third thing that helped shape my leadership was when I came to America for the first time to attend Illinois Tech. My father had enough money saved to afford one year of my tuition, after that, I had to figure out a way to afford my education. I faced a lot of challenges during my first few years. I was financially troubled and ended up skipping meals just to make ends meet. Being in that situation was very stressful and filled with uncertainty. I was thousands of miles from home and I had to learn to be self-reliant. Because of the circumstance, I had a lot of opportunity for self-reflection. I questioned and explored a lot of areas of my personality and morals that I had not previously looked in to, I was able to find my authentic self ,and because of that, I am able to take those lessons of reflection and authenticity and apply that into helping others.
Q: What has the Leadership Academy meant to you?
K: The moment I found out I was accepted into the Academy is a moment I will never forget. It was a huge sigh of relief. All of the stress, pain, and uncertainty of my situation was relieved, and I am so incredibly grateful for that. The Leadership Academy has helped me in unimaginable ways. I would not be even two percent of the person I am today if I did not have the experiences through the Academy. I’ve learned the importance of being outside of your comfort zone, good presentation, communication, and facilitation skills. I am able to observe a group, understand dynamics among the group, make deductions about how the team is functioning and effectively communicate those observations through leading a discussion. Facilitation is a very important skill to have because without it, a group could make minor changes that will put a Band-Aid over the wound, but they can never heal the wound unless the cause of the problem is understood.
Q: What is a piece of advice that you wish someone else had given you when you went through a hard time?
K: Your future is always better than the present; hope is a very important part of that. Don’t blame yourself for external factors; sometimes, hardships are circumstantial and there isn’t anything you can do to change them. Tell others about the hardships you are facing; more often than not, the people around you can help you in some way. Never stop trying. Hard work is never neglected; there is always reward for working hard.