Before being promoted to lead The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, I spent years working and volunteering for organizations constantly thinking, “if only I was in charge I would lead this organization differently.” It was an absolute shock to me, and I was initially terrified when I was actually afforded the opportunity to lead. What I’ve since learned about leadership is that it’s an incredibly collaborative process which necessitates more than just being put in charge. Working my way up from volunteer to the senior staff position at my organization has taught me quite a bit about both the leader I aspire to be and the leadership expectations from my staff, board of directors, and larger community. Leadership isn’t a task list or an organizational system. Leadership is an on-going process which requires continuous reflection and refinement. It requires doing much more than being.
Here are three aspects of leadership that I strive to achieve daily in my professional life.
Leadership is legitimized by the respect people have for the leader. It should go without saying, but treating coworkers, clients and key stakeholders with respect is mandatory for any leader seeking respect in return. As a rule, I treat everyone I encounter with the same level of respect I would show an older relative or immediate supervisor. From our largest donors and elected officials, to part-time employees, volunteers and clients, I make a point of extending respect to everyone I meet and interact with as part of my job. This also includes people who aren’t respectful to me.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Soon after receiving a promotion to manager at a large non-profit I once worked for, I remember talking to their VP. He seemed baffled when I told him that I was grateful for the opportunity to begin my career at his organization at the entry level, so I was able to understand the experiences of the total organization from the ground up. Understanding, valuing, supporting and sharing in the experiences and contributions of all employees and volunteers is key to receiving collective buy-in for your leadership. Sharing in your employees’ contributions can be something as simple as helping to set up a room before a meeting, taking out the trash in the building or working an event that you would normally delegate to a direct report every once in a while. Showing you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty demonstrates leadership that doesn’t prioritize self-importance, but rather emphasizes a shared commitment to getting the job done.
Follow Through on Obligations and Commitments
One of the fastest and easiest ways to lose respect as a leader is to fail to follow through on obligations and commitments. Running an organization can be incredibly challenging and there are always competing deadlines and priorities. While I hardly ever turn down an opportunity or invitation to promote my organization, I’m incredibly cognizant of the need to not bite off more than I can chew. Double booking appointments, no-showing to events and not providing feedback or information to employees in a timely manner are surefire ways to quickly lose the respect and reputation you’ve been working hard to build.
Of course, there are many additional aspects to serving as a successful leader than the three mentioned above, but I try to keep it simple. Even though I made it to the top, I never stop asking myself: “what can I do differently now that I’m in charge?” By showing respect to those around me, keeping engaged with my coworkers, sharing the collective load every once in a while and aiming to always follow through on my obligations and commitments, I strive to lead by example and serve my organization and my community to the best of my abilities. Although I know I have so much yet to learn, I’m thankful for these three leadership lessons learned and know for certain that these three aspects of leadership continue to guide my career journey.