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Monday, September 30, 2013

Some Timely Professional Development

When I was first accepted to the Princeton Emerging Leaders program, I had never given much thought to management style or some of the personality or behavioral reasons behind why some people operate the way that they do in a professional environment. I operated the way that I did because of the way that I thought was best, but also modeled off previous managers whom I respected and valued. In a day where there are many things that need to get done – managerial technique or process was just something that I did not have the time to address or stop and think about. I knew that I wanted the opportunity to receive professional development and learn from others, given that I operated in an essentially one-person office, but it was something that I did not think I had the time for.

For this reason, the Emerging Leaders program has been a breath of fresh air in that it has forced me to take a day every month and remove myself from the bubble of my organization and our short-term goals and think both personally and professionally about my long-term goals. In a world where short-term results and goals are critical, the big picture and one’s long-term professional development can often get overlooked and I felt as though I was in that boat. Operating in a role where I did not have a direct supervisor as the head of our organization, but a nonprofit board as a ‘supervisor’, it was difficult to learn best practices. I had learned some very important and critical lessons from our Board Chair over my first two years at the organization, but never quite the rationale at a higher level.

When I read the article “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?”, it really opened my eyes to the rationale behind how managers should operate and why I kept feeling like I had a to-do list that was endless, I just thought it was because I was overly productive. I knew I needed to improve on my delegating skills – but I didn’t quite know how to effectively go about it and while this didn’t give a clear-cut solution, it more or less just pushed me in the right direction. 

Right away, I had a few of my colleagues who I manage read the article just to put them in my shoes, and I also re-read it to put myself in the shoes of my Board Chair, and I’ve been pleased with the results. It’s now mandatory reading on my staff, and I think that it has really helped my relationships both with those I manage and those that manage me. I can already see great strides of improvement in those I manage and I think it’s because of the way that I was able to put more responsibility on them in a way that made sense for both of us. For my professional career, this was one of the most helpful articles that I’ve ever read, and was really my ‘a-ha’ moment regarding professional development at this stage in my career. So, thank you for that opportunity!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Discovering Your Monkeys

A month or two ago, for the Princeton Emerging Leaders Program, we read an article from Harvard Business Review called “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?”  The gist of the article is that employees will often come to their bosses asking that they solve their problems. This puts a “monkey” on the bosses back. The more monkeys that a boss accumulates and the bigger they are, the less time that the boss will have to devote to his or her own responsibilities.

To be frank, I was fairly skeptical when I first read the article; it wasn’t that I disagreed with it, but rather that I felt that the points that it was making were fairly obvious. However, in the weeks after I read the article, I subconsciously mulled it over and realized that I had a situation in my own work where I was accumulating monkeys that shouldn’t have been on my back, and that this had been one of the bigger stress factors in my job recently.

For about two years, essentially by default, I had taken the lead on maintaining a database that forms the crux of almost all other activities on my team’s project. Since I had only minimal time to devote to this task, the project (and my sanity) suffered. Therefore, we eventually decided to bring on someone new whose primary responsibility would be to coordinate the upkeep of the database.

I was very happy with this opportunity to take some work off of my plate, and to have a better maintained database. However, I was frustrated that, months after this new person joined the team, I was still feeling the burden of the database weighing on me. I was struggling to figure out exactly why this was, and only after reading “Who’s Got the Monkey?” did I start to understand: I realized that, although the new employee was doing work on the database, at the end of the day, I still ultimately felt responsible for the quality of the database, and my team was continuing to treat me as the responsible person.

This seems like an obvious conclusion, but for some reason it had evaded me until the article laid out the ideas clearly in front of me. Once I identified this as the problem, the solution was fairly easy: as team members continued to come to me with questions about, or problems with, the database, I would direct them on to the new employee, rather than try to tackle the problem myself; I took a similar tactic for the problems that I identified with the database. Eventually, the team including the new employee, adapted to this new structure, and I now feel that the monkey for the database as a whole has be transferred to its proper owner. I continue to accept small database-related monkeys, but with this new format, I am less stressed, and the larger monkey that is the database itself, is finally getting the attention that it needs from our new employee.

Monday, September 23, 2013

E.M.E.R.G.E. (E.ncouraged, M.obilized, E.ducated, R.eflection, G.rateful, E.quipped)

Greetings Good People,

During my short time with the Emerging Leaders NYC cohort I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and others who are trying to navigate through the non-profit world. The need to improve and want more from yourself is an ongoing journey. To quote our amazing NYC cohort leader/facilitator Yael "We are like plants, if we don't grow we die."

It has been rare for me to find professional development opportunities that work inside out as Emerging Leaders does. I find that most times while working in the non-profit sector, all that matters is results, results, results which is fine to a degree. However, does one ever wonder how did those results come to be? Upon leaving each Emerging Leader session I feel empowered, effective, and enlightened as I head back to my vocation. The abundance of tools delegated (Emotional Intelligence Competencies/Speaker sessions/Leadership principles.,etc) serve as catalysts to my leadership awareness, and promotes growth along this path to being a complete leader.

Emerging Leaders as stated in my title post has thus far encouraged me to improve on existing talents that are at times under utilized in the work place, mobilized my thinking in relation to the principles of leadership, educated  the novice in me with reflection on my inner self by way of MBTI as well as the 360 feedback. I'm grateful for the engagement amongst the other souls who are ultra transparent via learning conversations within our sessions. As we near our upcoming fourth session in October, equipped is the adjective that best describes what Emerging Leaders has done for me. I have seen a difference not only in my  professional life but my personal life as well. 

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge to the focus, concern, patience, authenticity, and humility shown by Yael Sivi, Hilary Joel, and Rachel Benevento during the initial sessions. They have made my Emerging Leaders experience hands down the best professional development I've encountered at any level.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Energizing Start to my Emerging Leaders Experience

I feel that I am at a crossroads in my career. I have performed well enough and have fulfilled the duties of my position, but I want to do more than just meet expectations. I want to add value and help my organization, and eventually the nonprofit field, grow and improve. It is all too common for me to feel as if I am constantly putting out fires and focused on “getting things done;” I rarely give myself the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on my performance at work. One can only assume that this is not in my best interest (or anybody else’s best interest for that matter), and that my professional performance will only suffer. I’ve found that just acknowledging this is not enough…even just after the first few months, Emerging Leaders has given me the time and the resources to do all of this and more:

1.       Working in the nonprofit sector I have found there is rarely an opportunity for cutting edge professional development, and Emerging Leaders has given me access to a structured program revolving around key topics designed to help young professionals develop themselves. We are given access to articles and reading materials that are crucial to any developing professional, and the day-long sessions are remarkably organized and adaptable to each person in the room.

2.       Before the first session we were asked to take the Myers-Briggs. I had never taken this before and, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what impact the results might have on me professionally. Processing the results during the first session I found that understanding my tendencies, and learning about the tendencies of other personality types, is extremely important. Every person has their strengths/weaknesses; learning these things about myself has encouraged me to pay attention to them more explicitly, but I think the biggest value-add has been having the ability to be more aware of the people that I work with. I have been trying to apply this knowledge in every interaction, and it has definitely enhanced my relationships with my colleagues, and has made different processes and projects much smoother.

3.       It is pretty standard to expect that one will receive formal feedback from their supervisor, and maybe in some cases a few superiors, on an annual basis. The value of receiving feedback goes without saying…how could anyone expect to improve without it? We were asked to gather feedback from not only our superiors, but also our peers, direct reports and other colleagues that we work with, in the form of a 360 review. This process was totally new to me. At first the results were shocking but after processing the results and then following up with the colleagues who gave me feedback, the 360 review is definitely something that I will try to make a regular practice throughout my career. Yes, it is important to get feedback from your supervisor, but every interaction and professional relationship impacts the work that I do every day. My ultimate goal is be the best I can be for the entire organization, and receiving this feedback is a great way to do that.

These are just a few key things that have had a major impact on me and that I have tried to integrate into my everyday practice…but overall, I believe the most valuable piece of the Emerging Leaders program (so far) has been having the opportunity to develop connections and network with other professionals in the field. It goes without saying that networking is extremely important in today’s world…but we are spending an entire day together, bouncing ideas off one another and learning from each other. In addition to developing connections with my fellow participants, it was extremely exciting to take advantage of the new Emerging Leaders Adviser Network; this has given me an opportunity to meet with, and learn from someone who has been very successful in the nonprofit world. My adviser was a perfect fit for me and I learned so much from just one meeting…but it won’t be just one meeting, he will be a valuable, long-term mentor. These relationships have only just begun to develop but I have already learned so much. Being around other professionals in the field, who have the same desire to grow, has been extremely exciting and energizing and I am excited to see how the next six months unfold!