At the closing session of the OSU Extension Support Staff Conference, I was asked to speak about leading from where you are. I wanted to share some of my reflections with all of you…
We are all leaders and have something of great value to share with others. One of the most renowned business leader gurus of our time, John Maxwell, says that leadership doesn’t come in a title; in fact, 99% of an organization’s leadership comes from the space other than the top of the org chart. He goes on to talk about how we all can learn to influence wherever we are and become a 360-degree leader, where you learn to lead up—lead across—and lead down. One’s position or title has little to do with genuine leadership. You can lead others from anywhere in the organization and make the organization stronger for it. Maxwell goes on to say that leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit.
First impressions and how you show up matter: The best leaders I know show up ready to engage, they project positivity and respect for those around them, and they communicate their excitement and pleasure for others through their body language, their words, and their actions. How does your first impression reflect with others? Did they hear a smile over the phone? Did we try help them obtain an answer even when we didn’t know the answer ourselves? Will they want to come back? Will they have something positive to say to others about OSU Extension?
Building connections matter: I challenge you to think about how you can build connections with your colleagues in your county and across the state and with our clientele. How do you use every interaction to bring value to that person and to our mission? That’s leadership. You are all the front line... the first faces they see, the first voice they hear, the first chance many of them have had to engage with our organization. You are the initial power brokers of Extension. Use that leadership power wisely.
Leaders step out of their comfort zone: I do this nearly every day.... Sometimes I nail it; and other times I bomb terribly, but I learn from the experience and add to my leadership toolbox. I believe it is important to take risks, to try new things when you may not be sure of the outcome, to make mistakes and learn from them, to apologize when you mess up, and do better the next time. We are a learning organization. You don’t just learn by only doing what you already do well... you learn by trying, by stretching, and by pushing yourselves and others to reach new heights together. Have stretch goals each year... ask yourself, what can I do to take my skills and this organization to the next level?
Leaders take initiative: They don’t sit back when they don’t have someone telling them what to do, or they don’t keep doing something the same way when it makes no sense. Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What could you be doing to improve a process, a form, a meeting, a website, an entry way so it is inviting to the public and introduces them to Extension? The opposite of leadership is disengagement and antipathy. Be the change you wish to see. When you take initiative, you move the system forward and you take the pressure off of others to have to own everything, which opens the space for collaboration and innovation. I always encourage feedback on how to make things better, but I also expect you to show up with some ideas for improvement.
A leader provides a safe environment for sharing, trying, and failing. Ask yourself if you are providing this opportunity for others. Do people know they can run ideas by you without being judged? Are you available for, and good at, active listening? Do you allow others to try new skills, knowing it may take longer at first as you navigate the learning curve; but you also know that you are growing a colleague’s competencies? Do you reach out beyond your county lines to others to share knowledge and skills, to mentor those in areas where you excel, to invite them into new leadership roles?
ALL contributions are important and valuable. Work hard at using positive language and reinforcement for those who are trying and putting themselves out there. We won’t always have the answers as leaders, but taking a chance to improvise when something needs to be done is important sometimes. Often the best step forward is literally a first step that can be modified through collaboration and adaptation; and collective genius is a way better approach to solving problems than simply leaving it up to those with leadership titles or positions.
Finally, I would encourage you to be empathetic and assume good intent. We all come from a place of wanting to make OSU Extension the very best it can be. We all may have different ways of showing it or leading, but we all have something to contribute each and every day. I try to approach every day by asking, “what can I do to provide the space, the resources, the inspiration, and the vision to ensure that the many amazing professionals we have in Extension know that they are valued and empowered to move this organization forward and to build the leader within?” I look forward to leading with you, wherever you are.
Thank you for all that you do in your leadership space to serve the citizens of Ohio and one another. I am grateful for you!