In Education and Learning, River and Water Organizations, Strong Organizations & Leaders

Building Strong Champions with Leadership Development

To address today’s water crisis, the national network of water protectors needs strong leaders. That’s why Building Strong Champions is the essence of River Network’s mission. At its core, Building Strong Champions is building the capacity of individuals and organizations. This blog post is the first in our series highlighting this work: looking at what it takes to be an effective leader – the crux of our Leadership Development work.

 “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” –Brené Brown

There are any number of definitions associated with leader or leadership, but the one above is my favorite. When talking with college students and early in their career professionals about leadership, I emphasize that being a leader is not tied to a job title, a position within an organization, or whether or not you manage staff. Anyone can be a leader and everyone should be given the opportunity to develop, grow, and enhance their leadership skills.

As we’ve all seen a time or two, not everyone who has “the title” exhibits the skills necessary to be an effective leader. Unfortunately, as organizations focus on hiring and promoting from within, they often overlook opportunities to train and mentor existing staff into effective leaders. This has become an emerging area of River Network’s capacity-building work. Our staff is available to provide leaders and organizations with support and expertise to help you prioritize leadership training, similar to our organizational development services in areas such as strategic planning and fundraising.

So, what does it take to be an effective leader? According to research done by Brené Brown, Daniel Goleman, Simon Sinek, and others there is a long list of characteristics that are associated with leadership. Of these, it is the following three that have resonated most with the organizations we’ve supported over the past year:

1. Understand Yourself

In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman defines self-assessment as a “candid sense of our personal strengths and limits, a clear vision of where we need to improve, and the ability to learn from experience.” Some individuals are born with an innate ability to know and judge themselves (sometimes too harshly); others require someone in their life to serve as their compass. Regardless, being self-aware is a critical component to being a leader. To have self-awareness is to know in which direction you’re headed and why, to be able to articulate your feelings and how those feelings are impacting the work, and to admit failure and evaluate why the failure occurred. Identifying a mentor or a coach early in your career, someone you trust to provide feedback and guidance, in building this self-awareness.

2. Instill a Sense of Curiosity in Yourself

“When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Seek to understand over being understood. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening.” -Glennon Doyle

Effective leaders want to know more, learn new skills, and ask questions both of themselves and others. When confronted with difficult feedback, challenging situations, or uncomfortable conversations, effective leaders will respond with “tell me more.” Ineffective leaders will instead react with defensiveness, dismissive or reactionary statements, or avoid the conversation altogether. Being a strong leader does not mean you have all the answers, it means you are able to ask the necessary questions to get the information you need, whether it is to make a decision, to determine a new path forward, or to better understand your team/colleagues.

3. Build Your Courage

Being a leader is not for the faint of heart. Inspiring others to trust you and your instincts and share their authentic selves with you requires vulnerability and bravery. Organizations suffer when leaders avoid difficult conversations, fail to show appreciation and gratitude to their employees and colleagues, and miss opportunities to build connection and trust. According to Gallup research, 37% of leaders say they avoid giving negative feedback. Why? Mostly because they don’t know how. Taking the initiative (and courage) to learn how to provide helpful feedback that encourages your colleagues and helps them grow, providing regular and consistent opportunities that allow for the sharing of feedback and recognition, and building these courageous conversations into the team’s culture make for an effective leader.

If you are interested in learning more about building your leadership skills, become a River Network member today and receive access to our webinars, Roundtables, online training programs, and one on one coaching and mentoring sessions.

Read our blog posts about the other pillars of our Building Strong Champions work: Organizational Sustainability and Professional Development.

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