"I'm a strong leader," I said to Rosanna in a Zoom breakout. We were acknowledging our relationship with leadership as part of a course for Sovereign Gifted Leaders (which I am also co-facilitating with Stephanie Beeby.)
"I've been a leader actively for 50 years!" I continued.
When I later told Stephanie about this, she suggested I do a newsletter about "50 years as a leader." Well...when I actually did the math, I realized it's been 60 years!
Here I am 60 years ago at age 13 (yes, I'm 73 and still going strong.)
(I'm wearing braces and was very embarrassed - thus the lack of a smile).
In September 1960 I started 7th grade, which meant entering junior high school. Finally, I was able to join the Junior High Midweek Program at church. Wednesday nights about 80 to 120 kids gathered weekly during the school year for a variety of activities, including dinner taken care of by some parents of the kids. This program was my mother's passion and her initiation, which was hugely successful until my parents moved back east.
During the next year, 1961 in 8th grade, I volunteered to joined the Board. Those of us who did that were called "leaders." It was like a Board of Directors consisting of both adults who were supervising the program as well as some participating junior highers.
That was my official introduction into leadership. Even though I was already taking on similar roles in school in minor ways and with friends, it wasn’t until that Board that I felt officially sanctioned as a leader, and when I recognized what I had been doing was leadership. I had no context to understand it until then.
That was 60 years ago I’ve been taking on roles of leader in multiple forms and in multiple organizations ever since. Throughout junior high, high school and just out of college for a few years, the church provided so many opportunities in multiple different ways to experiment. I had the courage and confidence to try stuff, make stuff up and a safe place to express my abilities creatively as a leader.
I do believe, for me, that I was born with this aptitude which developed over time through opportunities, practice and receiving feedback. It's in my hands!
Organizations where I've stepped into this role outside of church includes
~ Toastmasters over a 20 year period (active for 12)
~ Directing the Hewlett-Packard Choir for 7 years
~ Founding/Directing/Managing The Fun Times Singers Community Choir (which : 30 years in June 2022) although I'm not leading any more
~ Directing two other community choirs (totally 17 1/2 years of choral directing)
~ Chairing most of my High School Reunion gatherings at least every 5 years (and more recently) since 1971 (50 years) with a committee that has been consistent and loyal for decades
~ Teaching classes on a variety of subjects as an entrepreneur, and in the corporate world before starting my own business
~ For a short stint serving in the leadership group for International Institute of Hand Analysis, plus starting a monthly newsletter there with the help of Kay Packard
~ With friends in some circumstances, like organizing events or gatherings
As you might imagine, I've learned a thing or two about leadership and wanted to share some awarenesses here. Of course, this isn't everything where I've garnered knowledge. These are important highlights to me.
There are some foundational skill sets that apply to all of these roles. And then there are other skills unique to a specific purpose of leadership.
1. Not all leaders lead for the same reason or purpose
My purpose, I've discovered over time, is to create, build and sustain a safe community. I've left groups where the leader didn't have this purpose because it wasn't a match for me. People feeling connected with each other, bonding, matters a lot to me. Being safe attending or being part of a group is significant in my world. I like knowing personal things about people who are involved in what I'm facilitating.
Some leaders are sharing information or knowledge and that is their purpose. Community isn't a driving force. Other leaders are designed to produce a product, for example, and that is a unique purpose.
2. Having a vision is a very important part of successful leader ship.
Without a vision, there is nothing to follow, and the participants don't know where to focus their energy. For example, with choirs and high schools reunions, we always had dates for events and a tangible list of what needed to be accomplished by that date. The visions also included inviting others to join us.
With Toastmasters, there is a very clear vision from Headquarters. At the local club level, our leadership roles are to implement those visions with guidelines and in our own ways. I like involving other people’s input and yet still have a vision for what I want to accomplish.
As an entrepreneur, creating the vision when I'm leading my own classes falls to me. When I'm co-facilitating, we choose together what the vision is then build a class around it.
3. Delegating is very important
If I do all the work, that sucks for me and for the group. So having people who are responsible for specific roles in a group project is very helpful. They feel included and part of the community. If they’re really skilled at a particular role, it makes everybody’s life easier.
For choir concerts, I always had a pianist. People in the group skilled at technical equipment took care of that, like microphones. So happy others knew how and could do it with skilled excellence. Or when I am co-facilitating a class, we figure out who is best at what and then divide responsibilities.
4. Being mentored makes a big difference
When I joined Toastmasters on Tuesday, January 5, 1999 (a noon meeting) I volunteered the first day to be on the Board as a Secretary. I had no idea what was required but confident I could do it because I had been doing secretarial duties since high school. Easy-peasy for me.
Shortly after delivering my 2nd speech, Don could see I needed some support and volunteered to be my mentor, which he did for two years. He mentored me with speaking and leading, which are both tracks in Toastmasters.
Although I had direction by other leaders in many ways before that, the regular, weekly one-on-one mentoring was potent. So important to my success, I implemented mentoring programs in the other Toastmasters groups I joined subsequently.
I've sought mentorship from others over the years when a specific desire has arisen and I saw somebody who could provide the next steps. And I provide mentoring for my clients and students. Leaders do well when they have somebody to mentor as well as being mentored.
5. I like working with other strong leaders
Having been part of so many different groups over time and exposed to a variety of leadership styles, I have taken ownership of this: I like co-creating with other strong leaders. Since I am a strong one, I've discovered it's a match to co-facilitate with strong people.
What have you learned about leadership for yourself over the years? Feel free to share.