Personal Leadership Reflection/Vision Paper
November 9, 2010 2 Comments
Below is a paper I recently wrote for my Essence of Enterprise class. I was pleased with the reflection that it caused me to do, as well as with the feedback I received. I figured I would share, in case anyone is interested.
Personal Leadership Reflection/Vision Paper
In first grade I joined an organization that would influence and shape me in every facet of my life. At that time I had no idea that that Boy Scouts of America would become my education, serve as my passion, and form one of my largest social circles. I progressed through the ranks, serving as every major youth leadership position, earning leadership, rank, and religious awards, and even developed a youth leadership course for the University of Scouting. I got involved with Scouting’s national honor society, the Order of the Arrow, and worked for five years on our council’s summer camp staff. When I received the Order’s Vigil Honor (highest national honor) in April 2006, I spent the night in the woods, alone, keeping a fire going while challenging myself to reflect on who I am and who I want to become. Throughout all of this, one quote by the founder of the Order of the Arrow, Dr. E. Urner Goodman, stands above all other lessons and has influenced how I act, how I learn, and how I interact with others every day: “Things of the spirit are what count: brotherhood – in a day when there is too much hatred at home and abroad; cheerfulness – in a day when the pessimists have the floor and cynics are popular; service – in a day when millions are interested in getting or grasping, rather that giving” (Order of the Arrow).
I would not be where I am today without the help of countless individuals. Whenever I see someone in a leadership position, I try to learn from him or her. Whether the example is positive or negative, there are lessons I can learn and apply (or not apply) to my own leadership style. Peter Senge writes in his description of the “Shifting the Burden to the Intervener” system that in some cases, it is most effective to “teach people to fish, rather than giving them fish” (Senge). I have had mentors throughout my life who have taught me how to fish. When I was getting involved in planning large scale events for the Boy Scouts, I met someone two years older than me and began following his path and having conversations with him about how best to interact with people who would “know what’s best” for me to do, how to lead younger Scouts, and the best ways to give instruction to volunteers who were sometimes five times my age. I ended up taking what I learned from him and built the largest district camporee in recent history. I subsequently worked for him at Boy Scout camp. He now works for IBM as a Business Transformation Consultant and we have had regular conversations about how I might pursue a career in the consulting field.
Throughout high school and middle school, I was part of my synagogue’s youth group. Most of those years were spent on the board trying to rebuild our membership base and develop creative programming. I started getting involved in this thing called “social action.” Our youth group regularly raised money for food pantries, supported assisted living homes, and volunteered at a youth shelter. This was all inspired by the Jewish notion of tikun olam or “repairing the world.” Judaism teaches that the world is not perfect so each person must work to change that reality. Social justice has informed my volunteer and work involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, Hillel, and the Center for Multicultural Excellence. As well, when looking for an internship this past summer, I very seriously sought out companies that understood corporate social responsibility. Build-A-Bear Workshop certainly has that understanding.
Personal values inform professional values. The two are truly inseparable. Our Oxford team discussed this in length when discussing Benjamin Friedman’s quote that “Economic growth not only relies upon moral impetus, it has moral consequences” (Friedman). In order to be truly successful, one must be happy. For me, happiness is gained through helping others. Whether through social justice activities or personal connections, I am constantly striving to improve the world around me. In my short lifetime, some of the best/worst examples of corporate greed have occurred. Rather than devoting one’s life to making money for one’s self, one could make a difference in both the corporate and civil spheres. Through such actions, it is possible to be recognized monetarily and non-monetarily, and thus gain true happiness.
As I have sought paths down which to proceed (or create), I have taken a number of personality and career tests and surveys. I tend to be skeptical of the results as they rarely fully embody who I am. It was with that attitude that I received the results of my Insights Analysis – yet, I have never had a more accurate synopsis of how I operate and communicate. Due to my interpretation of its accuracy, I can actually learn about myself from my Insights profile and work to improve and become a better person and leader.
My Insights profile, lists my “Personal Position” as “Supporting Coordinator” (Insights Learning and Development). I have often wondered if business is the best place for me to truly make a difference to people. I enjoy making connections with people, deconstructing and understanding problems, and solving such problems. My self-reflection did not end that night in April 2006 and clearly, I have chosen to pursue a path in business. Through this path, I hope to blend my interests and skills and make a difference in the lives of my co-workers and the people affected by the organization in which I am employed.
I often seek out people in whom I see potential for leadership. My “Supporting Coordinator” characteristics have been utilized in both professional and personal situations. Four of my five years on staff at a Boy Scout summer camp were in the Business Manager position. I missed the regular connection with the Scouts in camp that had enveloped my first year on staff so each week of the summer, I found a Scout with whom I would meet regularly to discuss the possibilities for learning and leadership that existed for him. I might teach him about opportunities within the organization or give him advice on situations outside of Scouting. Similarly, each summer I worked with one or more first year staff members to provide guidance, experience, and advice. Each of these staff members subsequently ended up in manager or director positions.
In Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins writes of his “Hedgehog Concept,” that your business must find the best of three circles: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what best drives your economic/resource engine (Collins). I’d like to apply this concept to my leadership vision. I will be someone who is passionate about what I do and who I am, who excels at tasks in which I use my talents, and who is resourceful and able to utilize my own resources to ensure success.
Yet, leadership is more than passion and hard work. Leadership is about learning, applying, and implementing. I do not think that I will ever be “the best leader”. That is not said pessimistically; rather it is to imply that I may be “the best leader at any one time.” My leadership is not a set goal or a science but a continual process that I will work to develop by learning from others and from myself. I will seek to be the embodiment of best practices of leadership theory and leadership exercise. Success will be gained not by some career or personal goal post being met, but by the recognition of others. Throughout the Leading at the Edge Weekend, our group offered each member the ability to serve as a leader for a different activity. Sometimes though, leadership occurred by offering an idea that the “leaders” or other group members had not thought of themselves. The same scenario is true in business when lower-level employees offer ideas and advice to managers or when someone steps up while the rest of the group is struggling.
Leaders set the example. I will be honest with myself and with others. I will seek feedback and utilize this information for personal improvement. Leaders are also dedicated and hard working. I will be a servant leader utilizing a “deeper connection with [my] work” to find happiness and think beyond myself in my actions. As such, I will embody James Autry’s “five ways of being”: authentic, vulnerable, accepting, present, and useful (Autry). I will engage my weaknesses to transform them into strengths. All of this is applicable and true in both personal and professional spheres. As mentioned, I subscribe to the notion of a “whole person” (Grant). In this case, the whole person means that who I am as a leader in business involves the same characteristics as my personal life – family, organizations, etc.
I will be remembered as someone who was knowledgeable and who cared, someone who always did his best. I will not accept the status quo when the status quo can be improved. In order to create progress and growth (personally and professionally), I will change the systems and frames in which we operate. Are we asking the right questions? Whether or not we are meeting a goal, is it the goal that we really need to meet? By changing one’s frame of mind, it is possible to think creatively and lead others to do the same.
In addition to engaging my past experiences, I must understand where I currently am in my leadership development in order to achieve my vision. After lengthy reflection, I believe that what follows are honest highlights of my strengths, limitations, opportunities, and threats. Some of these characteristics have been informed by my Insights profile.
I love learning and seek professional and personal development. I excel at understanding problems and breaking down the details to allow for effective solutions. I work well in teams as well as by myself. An understanding of others informs my decisions and I work to be fair and realistic in all of my interactions. I smile, am optimistic, and keep my “feet firmly on the ground” (Insights Learning and Development). I am organized and have excellent time management and multi-tasking skills. Simultaneously, I sometimes get frustrated when I find the working methods of others to be unrealistic or when compromise is not seen as an option. While I can establish great working relationships with others, I do not automatically trust others and rarely show all of my true emotions. I sometimes seek structure more often than I should and may rely too heavily on rules or procedures. Confidence in some of my ideas is sometimes lacking, even when I should be sharing them.
I am also a good administrator and can focus on task and people issues simultaneously. My experiences have included business, non-profit, and higher education work. I appreciate the importance of cultural understanding and I am often successful in shaping my worldview to be non-United States centric. I will shortly have a master’s degree and I am often viewed as a safe and competent person to confide in or bounce ideas off of. As I move into the world outside of education, I am well aware that my past experiences and skills are not all directly related to the fields in which I am seeking a professional position. I have grown in the organizations in which I have been a part to be a recognized leader. It may be a struggle to start at the bottom of the pyramid in new structures/organizations without being recognized, as I have been the past few years. I sometimes like to have my own workspace or quiet space that may not exist in new work positions or new living situations.
I strongly believe that all of my limitations and threats can be transformed or overcome while I work to make use of my strengths and opportunities to become a better person and subsequently a better leader. Most immediately, I am taking feedback from the Leading at the Edge weekend to become more confident in my ideas and actions and more willing to share them. Additionally, I am joining new student organizations to learn about industries that interest me and in which I do not have professional experience. Especially when my formal education ends, I will need to take proactive steps to ensure that I continue to develop the qualities necessary to achieve my leadership vision.
I am currently working on improving my communication of expectations for my working relationships. I will ask specific questions during interviews to best understand the working environment and culture of potential employers. In that I hope to have a job secured before graduation, I will continue to have similar conversations with class project teams and subsequently understanding and adjusting to the environment immediately upon starting a new job. The effects of this new understand should be immediate and evident in my working discussions.
By the end of my first month of employment after graduation, I will seek out a mentorship with a leader in my new company. Within whatever framework exists for such a program, I will position myself to best benefit from such a relationship. If a mentorship program does not exist, I will approach the appropriate individual (in human resources or someone I would like to develop a relationship with directly) to create such an opportunity. In the mentorship, I will work on understanding the company, my role and career path, and the structures and systems in place. This will allow me to work with less restrictions (in terms of self-imposed limitations due to not understanding details of the company’s operating procedures) and progress through a career path more quickly.
During my first six months (and of course continuing into the future), I will work on developing close relationships with co-workers. I will seek professional development opportunities to gain in depth job knowledge. This combination will increase my comfort level with sharing new, potentially unconventional ideas and allow me to work with co-workers to support their goals. In so doing, it is likely that I will receive reciprocal support and thus be able to become a leader in my team. Within two to three years of progressive job experience and team support (depending on my starting position/company), I plan to achieve a promotion to a formal leadership position.
I will continuously push myself to learn and observe so that I can become a highly effective leader who supports others and myself in all that I do. My leadership will constantly be developing and show up in who I am and how I am in both formal and informal relationships.
Autry, James A. The Servant Leader. New York: Random House, 2001.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sectors. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Friedman, Benjamin. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
Grant, Bob. Profiles in Leadership Joel Portman. 2 October 2010.
Insights Learning and Development. “Insights Discovery Personal Profile – Joel
Portman.” Dundee: Intergistic Solutions, 24 August 2010.
Order of the Arrow. OA History – Shawnee Lodge #51. 20 October 2010
Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learn. New York: