Learning to Lead: Reflections on 2018
Contributed by Alexa Clark, Manager, Peer-to-Peer Education
Currently at JB Ashtin’s headquarters, walls are being torn down and new ones built, colors are being selected for accent walls, and large mysterious boxes labeled “fragile” have appeared almost overnight. Our end-of-year renovations seem to inspire a period of reflection in our office—well, for me at least. While most of our team is working remotely during the construction, my part of the office remains quiet and undisturbed, leaving me with time to reflect on 2018 while enjoying my morning mug of tea.
I started this year with a new role managing a long-time client’s speaker bureau. It was a project I had worked on since my very first day at JB Ashtin, and though I was extremely excited for the position, I was also a bit nervous. For the first time in my professional career, I had an entire team reporting to me. My coworkers-turned-friends became my direct reports in a split second; each issue to be resolved awaited my final decision. Suddenly I was the one to initiate the difficult conversations with the team and navigate the issues that inevitably arise with every project.
Though I didn’t have much leadership experience, there was so much that I had already been doing before I became “the manager”. That knowledge helped me succeed once I’d been promoted. In my previous role, I did everything I could to be the best coordinator, motivated by my passion for providing the best customer service to the sales force and faculty speakers. As the project expanded, our team grew, so I decided to create and organize training materials to help with onboarding. The new coordinators began asking me for guidance with issues regarding catering and travel, or how to appropriately word emails to the client. If I noticed that my boss was stressed or extra busy, I offered to help and took on whatever I could to make her life easier. My goal then—as it is still now—was to lead by example.
What I realized is that every time I helped team members, those efforts solidified my reputation as a dependable teammate for my coworkers and a reliable employee for my boss. Every person knew they could come to me for help or guidance. In turn, I began to hold myself accountable for more than my responsibilities. Though the weight of the entire project didn’t fall on my shoulders alone, having the mentality that every action I took or word I spoke directly affected the project pushed me—and the team—toward successful project execution.
Leading takes work. It’s dedication, it’s caring about your team and your project, and it’s doing whatever it takes. It’s being patient whether it’s the first time you’ve explained something or the ten-thousandth time. If you’re a manager, supervisor, CEO or president, you already know this. And, most likely, you’ve seen these leadership attributes in some of your employees. However, if you’re not in a position of leadership, you might wonder if it’s worth your effort. I truly believe it is—so here’s my advocacy for being a leader when you’re not in a leadership role: Own your role. Be a leader.
Your job is your proving ground. The actions you take every day determine not only your success, but the overall success of the project. Embracing the qualities of a leader in your own role can only make your team stronger. As long as you ask for help when you need it, remember that you are not always right, and don’t let your ego get in your way, nothing can stand in the way of your success. Think of it as investing in your future self.
After reflecting on 2018, I realized leading in a non-leadership role has inspired more growth and opportunity than I could have imagined. Being a leader when you’re not responsible for leading a person or project builds a level of self-accountability you can’t get from anything else. This accountability leads to stronger project execution and a more fulfilling work environment. As I look around our deconstructed office, I’m thankful for all that we’ve been through in this year. Together we faced challenges we didn’t anticipate and found opportunities to provide better service for current and future partners in 2019 and beyond.