Many people experience a defining moment at some point in their career, an event that profoundly changes their outlook and impacts their professional direction in ways both large and small. Five years ago I had just such an experience, one that has shaped how I see myself, my career and the world around me.
Rewind to 2016. Professionally I was feeling itchy; I felt like I was at a turning point in my career, ready to take the next step and rise to new challenges. Over the previous five years, I had become adept at managing, motivating and supporting myself and I knew that leadership – managing, motivating and supporting others – was the next logical step in my journey. The problem was that I had difficulty picturing myself as a leader. To my mind a leader was someone who has it all figured out, someone who exudes confidence and know-how, someone great, someone powerful, someone who achieves exceptional things. I, quite frankly, considered myself none of those.
The thought of leading others was certainly intriguing, but I also found the notion deeply terrifying. When my employer offered me the opportunity to attend Leadership Niagara that year, my mind was a flurry of self-doubt.
“I’m not confident or successful enough to be a leader.”
“I’m not ready for this.”
“What if I fail?”
“What if everyone realizes I don’t belong here?”
It was precisely because of these doubts that LN became such a transformative experience for me. It was during my time in the program that I revised my definition of leadership and learned that many of my assumptions were simply off base. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned and continue to share with other self-described “unlikely leaders.”
While heads of government and CEOs tend to spring to mind when we think of leaders, anyone can be a leader, regardless of what’s written on their business cards or email signature. And, in fact, the community benefits from a diversity of leadership, as each individual brings their unique perspective and talents to the table. Put simply, leadership isn’t a title. It’s an attitude, a mindset, an acknowledgement of the power that every person inherently possesses to enact positive change and influence the lives of others.
Despite what outdated leadership models may have you believe – namely that a good leader is stern, stoic and emotionally unreadable – emotions are not only acceptable in leadership, they play an important role. Effective leaders understand how emotions work, what impact they have on a team and how they influence our decisions. Emotional intelligence can lead to stronger teams, greater trust and more effective communication.
Leaders don’t actually have all of the answers. In fact, good leaders understand and acknowledge what they don’t know and take every opportunity to continue learning and growing. Good leaders don’t expect to be the smartest person in the room; instead, they surround themselves with talented people from whom they can continue to learn. They are hungry for knowledge and never believe they’ve learned all there is to know.
Communities need leaders. This is particularly true in a post-COVID world, as communities rebuild and look for new ways to adapt and prepare for an uncertain future. Whether it’s sitting on a board of directors, joining a committee, getting involved in local government, volunteering, or simply using your voice to raise awareness for an issue or cause, it is easier than you may think to leverage your unique talents in support of your community.
Attending Leadership Niagara was an important step in my professional journey, helping me redefine leadership and showing me that it comes in all shapes and forms. After graduating from the program I set about looking for opportunities to apply my newly acquired leadership skills. I moved into a new role within my organization and when an opportunity presented itself to join the LN board of directors, well, let’s just say it felt like kismet.