Do you aspire to become the executive director or CEO of an association someday?
If so, you’re not alone. Many association staffers want to lead an association or a non-profit from the top spot one day, and associations always need experienced leaders to meet new challenges.
To qualify as an ED candidate, you’ll need to master the core knowledge necessary to guide an association, but you’ll also need to learn how to become an effective leader – something that doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is that you can get started right away, learn as you go, and lead at any level in your association.
Leadership isn’t tied to a specific title or role; it's about the actions you take and the influence you have on your surroundings.
At its core, leadership is about guiding, inspiring, and influencing others to collectively achieve a shared vision or goal. It transcends formal authority, as true leaders are recognized for their ability to inspire and empower those around them, regardless of their position within an organization. Leadership is not confined to a single style or approach; rather, it encompasses a range of qualities and skills that adapt to various situations and contexts.
So how can you start leading wherever you are?
First, it will require a degree of self-awareness and introspection. Good leaders share certain positive attributes, and it’s likely you already exhibit many of them, but you probably also have some weaker areas that need some work. Take inventory of your existing leadership skills and rate yourself in the following areas:
- Are you self-motivated?
- Do you have great communication skills?
- Are you empathetic and emotionally intelligent?
- Can you solve problems?
- Do you work well as a collaborator in teams?
- Are you adaptable and resilient?
- Do you keep a positive attitude?
- Do you accept responsibility and hold yourself accountable?
- Are you able to positively influence others?
- Are you always learning new things?
- Are you willing to change as you learn new skills?
- Are you willing to allow someone else to lead?
A true leader leads by example, modeling the behaviors and values they wish to see in their team. They empower others to contribute their unique strengths and insights, creating an environment where collaboration flourishes and innovation thrives. Ultimately, leadership transcends organizational charts and becomes a driving force that propels individuals and teams toward achievement, growth, and lasting success.
So how can you lead from an entry-level position? Here are five suggestions:
- Take the Initiative and Be Proactive: Take the initiative to go beyond your assigned tasks. Volunteer for projects, share innovative ideas, and seek ways to contribute. Be someone your boss can trust to finish the job.
- Keep a Positive Attitude and Be a Team Player: Maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude, even in the face of challenges. Be a supportive and collaborative team member by assisting colleagues, sharing knowledge, and fostering a cooperative work environment.
- Communicate Effectively: Communicate clearly and actively. Listen to your colleagues. Ask questions, seek feedback, and provide updates on your progress.
- Be a Problem-Solver: Approach problems with a solution-oriented mindset. When faced with challenges, think critically and propose creative solutions.
- Learn and Grow: Take ownership of your professional development. Seek out opportunities for skill enhancement through workshops, online courses, or mentoring relationships.
Leading from the Middle
If you’re already working in middle management, you have many chances to demonstrate leadership in your daily work. You may already lead teams or head committees. Here are ways that you can improve your leadership skills while in those jobs:
- Lead by Example: Demonstrate the behavior, work ethic, and attitude you want your team to emulate. When your team sees you taking initiative, working collaboratively, and maintaining a positive attitude, they are likely to follow suit.
- Empower Your Team: Give your team members autonomy and decision-making authority within their roles. Trusting your team fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, which can lead to increased motivation and productivity.
- Communicate Effectively: Maintain open and transparent communication channels. Regularly share information about the organization's goals, changes, and challenges. Listen actively to your team and encourage them to communicate with one another.
- Develop and Mentor: Identify the strengths and areas for growth in your team members. Provide opportunities for skill development and growth through projects, training, or cross-functional collaborations. Act as a mentor by offering guidance and support, helping them navigate their career paths.
- Advocate for Your Team: Ensure that your team's contributions are recognized and appropriately rewarded. When necessary, address any concerns or obstacles that might hinder your team's performance and success.
Remember, effective leadership is not solely based on hierarchical authority. It's about influence, collaboration, and fostering a positive work environment. By embodying these principles, staff members at any level can make a significant impact on their teams and contribute to the overall success of the organization.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.