Each month, my weekly business column will feature a respected leader in our region who has been in their career long enough to have learned a lesson or two worth sharing. The name of this monthly feature is, "Leadership Reflections: Lessons Learned From The School Of Hard Knocks."
You will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the featured leader's journey that led them to their current role. Most importantly, you will gain valuable insight from helpful "real life" lessons they've learned along the way. It is my hope that these life lessons will help to inspire a spirit of continued personal development for everyone who reads it. Enjoy.
Q: Can you tell us about your organization?
A: Based in Jamestown, Community Helping Hands provides help with emergency needs for clothing, household items and furniture through the operation of a second-hand store, housed in The Gateway Center. We also provide opportunities for work experience, community service and mentoring. Our mission is to "empower people to help themselves and others."
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I am an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. I earned a bachelor's degree in English from Seattle Pacific University, a master's in religion from Yale University and a master's in divinity from North Park University in Chicago.
Q: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
A: It's OK to admit you don't know everything and you don't have everything figured out. You also don't have to react immediately to whatever crisis or situation presents itself. Learn to listen to people above and below you. You have to make sure people are confident you truly know the "rules" before you can break them.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
A: The pace at which the world is changing. Constant transition is now the normal. Not only is technology constantly changing, but it's getting rarer for people to stay in the same place for long. So how do you keep up? How do you keep someone's attention? How do you create a culture and community in an organization when you don't have much stability or consistency among the staff, clients or volunteers? When and how do you actually get a chance to communicate your vision on a consistent basis?
Q: What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?
A: A leader must have vision, and probably more importantly, an ability to communicate their vision to whatever constituency needs to see and own it. This happens on a micro and macro level, so it's not just executive directors or senior pastors that need this characteristic but also any team leader or supervisor. You might be communicating the vision to those who have authority over you, just as much as those over whom you lead. You might also have the best ideas in the world or be the most charismatic person, but if you can't communicate where you're going, people won't follow; at least not in a way that's lasting or makes a real impact.
Q: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the "institution" to dampen the "inspiration." How do you keep this from happening?
A: The only way this happens is by making sure your organization is connected from the "ground up" not the "top down." It's the people in the trenches who sometimes are the most committed to the mission of your organization and who also come up with ideas that are outside of the box. Do you have built into the structure of your organization a way to listen to these folks? Do you trust their instincts? Do you know how to harness their energy and passion?
Q: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
A: I have a mentor I can be completely honest with, and I often go to her when I need advice. Sometimes I go to her when I just need to feel affirmed in what I am doing. She's an outsider and has no tie to the organization, so her perspective is unique. I am also part of this year's Chautauqua Leadership Network, which has been helpful in learning about my own leadership style, strengths and challenges.
Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. She brings leadership experience from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.changeagentsee.com.