Serving as the Chair of APAGS was an incredibly formative professional development experience. In reflecting on the year, with its successes and challenges, several leadership lessons emerge that I will take with me. I hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for me in learning what it means to be a leader, and to lead.
Leaders often face an array of complex, difficult, and even controversial decisions. A guiding framework for making decisions – especially difficult ones – is to align with both your individual principles and the values of the group you represent. You are more likely to make good decisions when you can clearly articulate the principles and the rationale behind them.
We create strategic plans and mission statements to give us direction and help us decide what we hope to achieve and how to get there. Equally important, they also should help you decide what not to do. Your group will function best when it sets clear priorities and engages in activities that are in alignment with those goals. This means learning to be comfortable saying “no” to opportunities or projects that detract from your ability to realize your vision.
Disagreement can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage. Yet disagreement is a critically important part of group process. Disagreement usually means that you are discussing something important. Groups can move forward constructively in the absence of consensus. In fact, if you wait for everyone to agree, you may never get anything done. Leading means being willing to move the group forward towards a solution everyone can live with. And working through disagreement to find common ground results in the best and most thoughtful outcomes.
Be Willing to be Unpopular
Being a leader means being willing to be both loved and hated. Leaders make difficult decisions, and receive both praise and criticism for their actions. At times, the right (principled) decision may not be a popular one, or may cause friction with other groups. Leaders need to find the courage to fight for what they believe in, even when there is some risk involved. Stand by – and share – your principles and what you believe is right and why. This is the definition of good leadership.
Communicate & Collaborate
The importance of communication and collaboration cannot be underestimated. Groups in power are most often criticized for a lack of transparency in their actions and decision-making. Decisions will be tough, and decisions will be unpopular. Communicating openly and clearly with your constituents is your greatest protection against mistrust and criticism. When difficult decisions are made, explain your thought process and your rationale (and yes, sometimes even your struggles in making the choice). Transparency and a collaborative style will go a long way towards earning trust, even when you make decisions that may at times be controversial.
I hope these reflections are helpful, and that you will consider embarking on your own leadership journeys. Being involved in the field is a professional responsibility, and being a leader is a great way to contribute and use your skills. Leadership can be challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding and meaningful work. We can only make change happen when we sit at the table, and our voices are powerful – if we choose to use them.
Visit the APAGS Governance webpage for more information on leadership opportunities.