Exploring Leadership: A Personal Journey Part 1 – Introduction

Shannon Wealther

Early in my career, I found myself in a leadership role and until this day, it has been one of the most impactful experiences of my professional life.  I have been told I am a natural leader but at 24 years old, I lacked a leadership toolbox and the skills to support and manage a constantly changing staff.  I had worked my way up to this leadership position, so I was familiar with the challenges the staff faced but I was unprepared and poorly supported and left after only a year.  This is a pattern I recognize far too frequently in the nonprofit community.  Direct service staff struggle due to a lack of strong leadership and leadership teams struggle without the resources to develop their own skills.  Professional development is seen as a luxury that most nonprofits cannot afford and so employees go without.

Last year, I had the privilege to work closely with a leader who changed the environment and momentum of a team in less than 3 months.  It was the first time I saw how one person could positively impact a work environment.  However, I watched this from the outside, and as I continued to experience my own frustrations and struggles, I decided something was going to have to change.  I did not want to be a part of the cycle any longer and although I loved my direct service role, I thought, maybe I could be that person to support others in their difficult work.

So I embarked on a personal development project with the aim of discovering what skills I would need to acquire and develop to become the leader I had always looked for.  I identified successful leaders from nonprofit, corporate and education backgrounds and asked them the same series of six questions, the results of which I will share with all of you in this 8-week series.  The questions are below:

  1. Describe your leadership style.
  2. What three characteristics should every leader have?
  3. What common mistakes have you seen among leadership teams?
  4. What do you wish you had known or prepared for ahead of time?
  5. What were some of your biggest successes or greatest challenges?
  6. What have you found to be helpful in your personal/professional development?

Although the interviewees are from different genders, races, roles, generations and even countries, similar patterns emerged in their responses and I feel it is important to not just keep these results to myself but to share with others!  This began as a personal project, but I hope these insights will provide some support and encouragement in your own journey.

NEXT: Exploring Leadership: A Personal Journey Part 2 – Interview Question: Describe your leadership style.

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