Leadership Comes in All Shapes and Sizes
By Danielle Gruen
When asked recently by a colleague, by a client, and within the same week by a friend about how to feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment in one’s professional life, I answered “through leadership”, without hesitation. That is when it occurred to me how many of us do not necessarily realize the power of leadership in career development, professional establishment and growth. On a personal level, I tell the friend some simple steps he can take and give some concrete advice. I have an a-ha moment when I catch myself giving almost the exact same advice to both my client and colleague, all on entirely different life and career paths. This is when I decided the value of passing on this understanding I had been sharing one-on-one with some many around me. The insight I learned about my own career I no longer assumed as “common knowledge” because as it turned out, it was not all that common after all.
In the following article I will discuss and elaborate on the following five tips for developing leadership both for our clients and for ourselves:
Tip #1: Try to be a leader in a smaller capacity at first, and feel the effect it has.
Tip #2: Start your own group or take on a leadership role in a current group in which you are a member. By starting your own group, you become the known name and face of the group.
Tip #3: Get involved at a leadership level in a professional association for your industry and career. Ask about a leadership training or academy, and local or regional opportunities.
Tip #4: Explore ways to be a leader where you currently work, or in your community.
Tip #5: Talk to current leaders about what benefit they find in the leadership roles they play.
There really is no one set formula for how a leader manifests. Successful people are leaders, and so the question really to ask yourself or your clients is “how do I bring about success in my own life?” LEADERSHIP is one tool. Typically, leaders are thought of as well-established professionals with years of experience behind them and a prominent reputation. In fact, it is a mistaken belief that it is not appropriate to become a leader until certain expectations have been met, and a considerable amount of time in the industry has passed. This is simply not true. If you want to feel more successful in your career, try taking on a new project. This is one example of everyday leadership. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many different and important ways to be a leader at all levels of career development, including for the newer professional.
As quickly as we master something, there is always another skill to learn and new knowledge to absorb. This means that while leaders are mentors, they will typically also have mentors themselves. To be a leader is to be willing to take responsibility, manage, guide and direct when need be, and yet constantly keep learning and growing as well. This is a tricky and valuable task.
Last year, I joined an entrepreneurs networking group for women started by local business owners in the Los Angeles area who decided there was a need for such a group. Shortly after joining this group, I started my own networking group with a support and referral focus. Things the other group did not offer, I was able to implement into this new group. I also made decisions about the group; the size, the purpose, and the rules to assure members would be drawn in who were the best reciprocal matches for one another. In making these decisions and taking these steps, my own inner leader was at work.
As career counselors, most of us are members of NCDA and other professional associations. We typically recommend our clients join similar industry specific associations. As early as a member’s first year, most professional associations will have leadership or leadership training opportunities (e.g., NCDA's Leadership Academy). This is one of the best ways to become versed in an industry, keep current, and to develop a reputation and network. I recently took my own advice when I restarted an inactive local chapter of the CCDA in Southern California. With the support of the other Chapter Chairs and of course the CCDA Board, I have learned so much already, and continue to grow each and every week as a leader.
I also recently co-founded a community project called CareerCamp, and have found that co-chairing an event related to personal and professional interests is a fantastic way to develop and demonstrate leadership. It provides community and industry recognition, and fosters learning of skills not necessarily otherwise used. Depending on place of employment, community work may allow for professional development in ways a single job or workplace may not offer. If there are career related barriers, work to find ways to overcome them, perhaps through conversations with mentors and colleagues. Sometimes, leadership can be just that bridge.
It is important we not underestimate the power of our work and the knowledge we each possess, both personally and professionally as career counselors. By playing a leadership role in your workplace/organization, the local or national professional association you belong to, or via a mentoring program, life-long learning and growth develop exponentially. The knowledge we bring to others and to ourselves through leadership is best described as irreplaceable. It is often through our leaders where change takes place, connections are made, and minds are opened.
Danielle Gruen, MS, NCC, DCC, is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of California, Division of Department of Rehabilitation in Los Angeles, California. She currently serves as Disability Awareness Specialist and liaison counselor in the transition services program for high school and college students. She also serves as lead counselor and provides Disability Awareness training at a local community rehabilitation program serving the HIV/AIDS community. She earned her Masters degree from San Francisco State and has worked in non-profit, Higher Education, and government as a Career Counselor and Workplace Consultant. She also has a private practice providing local and distance counseling for career transitioners at all stages, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org