Do you recall your first formal leadership development experience? Mine was in 2000 — I was sponsored by a foundation to participate in the Leadership Development Program at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). I was 30, and I had been working for nine years, building a career in the nonprofit sector.
In the early years of my career, I received leadership training from various bosses, mentors, and other seasoned professionals in the form of advice, best practices, and – most often – “in the moment” life lessons. My ‘classroom’ occurred while wearing many hats, trying new things, taking risks, and making my best efforts to exhibit courage in the face of fear. Progress and discoveries came as much by failure as by success.
Today, universities have more formally developed student leadership offerings; many are requirements for undergraduate study. Students graduating and entering the for-profit workplace often begin on a development track and are exposed early on to corporate leadership training, assessments, and coaches.
These kinds of critical opportunities, while assumed and plentiful in the corporate environment, are glaringly absent in the nonprofit sector. And even if available, many leadership programs are cost-prohibitive for many small to medium-sized organizations.
As a young professional, this CCL experience was life-changing. It was the first time in my career that I was exposed to behavioral assessments, 360-degree feedback, insight into my natural and adapted styles, and in-depth analysis of my strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots.
After that one-week intensive, I was different. With new, critical insight, it was as if the Vaseline had been wiped from my windshield.
My newfound vision significantly affected my approach to decision-making and my ability to work with others, manage responsibility, and chart my course. It fueled my desire to gain increasing responsibility and helped me achieve my goal of leading a nonprofit arts organization.
This experience ignited my desire for more. I devoured books and articles on leadership, unearthed other education opportunities, and connected to coaches.
“What if I had had a similar kind of formal leadership development experience in high school, or college — or in the first year or two of my career? What difference would it have made in my professional development, how I interacted with co-workers, teams and boards, and in my overall career track?
I know the difference it made at 30 years of age. What if I had had the same experience at 20?
Today, I can only imagine that impact. I encourage you to begin where you are:
- Seek out formal leadership development for yourself — early on and often; I guarantee it will be eye opening and will have countless positive effects on your life.
- Consider working with an executive coach. You’ll be more purposeful and mindful of your career and life path, taking charge of your present and future direction.
- Get involved in positively influencing the life, education, and/or career of a young adult. You’ll receive as much or more than you give!
*This article also appeared in Arts Link, Americans for the Arts’ quarterly members-only magazine. If you are interested in joining our organization to receive this and many other benefits, visit our Membership page.