Working in a leadership role at a nonprofit organization is something that I have been (unknowingly!) preparing for my entire life. Since a young age I have enjoyed and been motivated by collaborating with others towards a common goal or vision. No, really. A very young age.
At a recent family gathering, my family and I were watching my daughter play. My husband and siblings were reminiscing about their favorite toys and games as young children. I thought about it, and couldn’t pinpoint anything specific, when my mom chimed in and said, “you didn’t really have a favorite toy, you mostly enjoyed organizing and directing other children around a common project or plan”.
Last spring, when the opportunity presented itself to throw my hat into the ring for the role of Executive Director at Reach Out and Read Colorado—an organization that I care deeply about and had been an employee of for more than seven years—I jumped at the chance. An opportunity to work with a team that I respect and enjoy and with a passionate Board of Directors around a cause that I am so ardent about was a no-brainer. Additionally, the opportunity to lead an organization that has had a proven track record of success into its next chapter was a challenge I couldn’t resist.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my new position, but if I had to sum up three key lessons that will continue to inform my work in this role moving forward they would be:
#1 Listen first. Take time to contemplate, reflect, and strategize. THEN, take action.
While my natural instinct is to charge ahead, when leading a team and an organization it’s important to ensure that you make decisions with intention that fit into the larger strategy—gathering feedback and taking time to truly reflect on that feedback has been invaluable.
#2 Learn to let it go.
In every aspect of life, some days are better than others. I’ve learned over the past year that it’s important to be able to focus on the bigger picture and recognize that sometimes the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and move on to the next hurdle. (It’s entirely possible that my 2-year old’s love of Frozen may have influenced this one!)
#3 Trust your intuition and stand-up for what you believe truly matters.
Stepping into an executive leadership, it was easy to think that the most important thing to do was to ‘stay the course’, but after a few months in, I realized that I needed to remember and employ one of my favorite quotes by leadership guru Warren Bennis, “If you go on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll go on getting what you’ve always got–which may be less than you want or deserve.”