Leadership is a key element in the university life experience, with multiple opportunities across many societies. Beyond academic learning, the university is a place where leaders are groomed for life after school.

As student leader, one has to be accountable to the school’s management at all times, and organisational skills are a must to run the committee and organise events. These responsibilities teach a host of lessons and life skills that cannot be learnt in the classroom.

One of these teachings is servant-leadership. As Melissa Chia, president of People for Animal Welfare (PAW), shares with SMU Snapshots, being a servant-leader has enriched her relationships. “You cannot really be a leader until you know how to serve those whom you expect to follow you.” By putting her team before herself, she leads by example to build a better and more caring team.

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During her presentation at the SMU Leadership Symposium, Melissa shared the importance of being a servant-leader with her peers. “My journey has taught me to empathise and see things from the perspective of my team. Knowing how to be a follower means you are humble open to collaborative decision-making. There will always be someone in a position of more authority than you.

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Having been an animal lover since young, joining PAW was a no-brainer for Melissa. Her passion and enthusiasm for her role have translated to multiple opportunities beyond the classroom, with experiences that shape her to become the wise and humble leader that she is today.

But the going was not always easy. Making the unpopular, but right decisions, was a challenge during her tenure as president of the society. As a servant-leader, she often struggled “to not appear antagonistic or difficult”, and had to instead be patient with explaining the difficulty of situations.

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“Difficult decisions will have to be made; be prepared for them”, Melissa comments thoughtfully when asked about the takeaways from her time as president. She still plays an advisory role in PAW despite stepping down, and always gives the advice to be open-minded, for she has learnt that “you will experience things you never expected, so take them calmly and in your stride”.