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Starting on Your Path to Leadership: Four Lessons

Sophia Guevara is an EPIP member in Michigan, a long time contributor to RE: Philanthropy and the the former chair of the Consortium of Foundation Libraries affinity group.  She responded to the EPIP summer challenge with a few key leadership lessons that she’s picked up along the way.Guevara Picture

In every field, there are a few professionals who choose to stand out from the rest.  These leaders are usually passionate about their work, but passion alone often isn’t enough. For the early career professional looking to start their own path towards leadership, what are a few lessons to keep in mind?  In my own case, I believe that some of the most valuable lessons I learned about leadership were gained during my experience as a negotiator.  From getting comfortable with rejection to being creative with options at one’s disposal, the experience taught me lessons that I believe have helped me on my own path.  Here are four of those lessons:

1. Get comfortable with rejection.  One of the valuable lessons I learned from this type of work was dealing with rejection.  When submitting proposals to vendors, I quickly learned that every rejection I received was not an end in itself, but instead provided me with valuable knowledge to improve upon my work.  Making a decision to learn and progress, rather than being stopped in one’s tracks by rejection, can bring you closer to your goals.

2. Choose to influence your environment.  As a negotiator, I learned how important it was to be proactive rather than reactive.  It’s important to choose to influence one’s environment rather than sit back and be influenced. This can be difficult for an early career professional as it is easy to think that others will discount your knowledge due to perceived inexperience.  That said, don’t downplay the valuable knowledge you already possess. Look for ways to share it in a way that provides the most value.  Some ideas include reverse mentoring professionals within your own organization, publishing or presenting.

3. Be creative with what you do have.  Sometimes I had to work with vendors to come up with creative solutions to work within our budget.  These challenges taught me to be creative with what I had instead of focusing on what I lacked as an excuse to throw in the towel.  In one’s path to leadership, it’s easy to focus on the areas in which you are lacking as an excuse to reject opportunities that can enable you to grow as a leader.  Instead, choose to use what you have and make a plan to help you develop in the areas you lack.  Give yourself a timeline, create benchmarks to measure your progress and be accountable for your own professional development.  Keep in mind that you are always a work in progress.

4. Make your own opportunities.  I’ve found that some of the best growth opportunities have come from my service on several committees in both professional associations and affinity groups.  The people with whom you serve are often leaders themselves, and the value of the knowledge you gain from these experts often outweighs the time commitment of your service.  I have found that many groups will make room for someone who is willing to learn, as well as eager and dedicated enough to provide value to the members they serve.

In conclusion, as you work towards your potential, make sure to offer to help those around you live up to theirs as well.