Do you recall your first formal leadership development experience?
My first experience was in 2000 – I was sponsored by a local 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.
Up to that point, my leadership development experiences had been more informal – in school, on the athletic field, and over years of music lessons – all through interactions with insightful teachers and coaches.
In the early years of my career, I received leadership training from various bosses, mentors, and other seasoned professionals in the form of sage advice, best practices, and – most often – “in the moment” life lessons at an operational, grassroots level. My ‘classroom’ was “on the street,” “in the trenches,” and oftentimes in sink or swim situations…some of the greatest learning opportunities there are.
At 30 years of age, most of my professional development occurred when 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, colleges and universities have more formally developed leadership programs and offerings for students; many are course requirements for undergraduate study. Students graduating and entering the for-profit workplace often begin on a career development track and are exposed early on to corporate leadership training programs, assessments, and executive 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.
My formal CCL experience was made possible by a new funding relationship between CCL and a local foundation partnering to sponsor nonprofit executives’ participation in the Center’s Leadership Development Program. For me, it 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 leadership styles, and in-depth analysis of my strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots.
After that one-week intensive, I was different. Armed with new, critical insight, it was as if the Vaseline had been wiped from my windshield. My discoveries and newfound vision:
- Augmented my leadership, management, and decision-making capabilities.
- Sharpened my abilities to value, work with, and manage others.
- Spurred me to create a career vision and goals to chart and navigate my course.
- Fueled my desire to gain increasing responsibility, ultimately helping me achieve my goal of leading a nonprofit arts organization.
- Ignited my interest in seeking out additional opportunities, including books and articles on leadership, other continuing education, and connecting to coaches and mentors.
“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. It has prompted my own drive to help make leadership coaching opportunities available and accessible for students and young professionals. I believe we must reach teachers, coaches, and other mentors interacting with our young people and ensure they have the skills and training necessary to take advantage of the critical leadership teaching moments in everyday experiences.
I’m discovering exciting ways to be involved in the creation and delivery of such opportunities, including participating in CCL’s Young Women’s Leadership Program, the University of North Carolina’s student mentoring program, and working to help coach and develop the next generation of arts and culture leaders.
I encourage you to begin where you are:
- Seek out formal leadership development for yourself – early on and often; I guarantee it will be an eye-opening experience and have countless positive effects on your life.
- Surround yourself with trusted and respected mentors and 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!
- Advocate for leadership development within the nonprofit sector. Encourage it as a priority in your workplace, among peers, and to funders to invest in and support leadership development opportunities.
About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.