by Lindsay Singler and Rachel Hardin
Want to learn more about who you are as a leader? The opportunity may reside outside of your 9-to-5 job and in your community instead. Leadership opportunities are everywhere – consider volunteering with a local charity, joining a board, participating in your child’s Parent Teachers Association, or signing up for leadership development programs offered by your local Chamber of Commerce. Rachel Hardin, Associate Director of Business Development at Quintiles, and Lindsay Singler, Associate Director of Communications at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, share their experiences stepping outside of traditional avenues to build their leadership experience in fulfilling ways.
My leadership advice is fairly straightforward: do what you love, do it in the most adventurous way possible, and help other people along the way. Many people can discover these opportunities within their current role whereas others may find it difficult. I started pursuing leadership opportunities outside of my employer in my mid-to-late 20’s to broaden my network, enhance my skill set, and become a more connected leader within my local community. As a first step, I joined Leadership Triangle, a leadership development program focused on raising up leaders within the Triangle, North Carolina. Through Leadership Triangle, my eyes were opened to a vast array of challenges faced by my local community that require leadership. I then started volunteering with Dress for Success Triangle. I discovered that they have an aging demographic of donors and pitched a young professionals network to the Board as a way to build up Dress for Success supporters in their 20’s and 30’s. This pitch led to the formation of Women for Success Triangle, which is where Rachel and I came together to truly drive change and make an impact in our local community. Read more about my leadership journey and philosophy here.
When I started my first job after college, I thought the only way to grow as a leader was by gradually increasing my responsibilities at work and seeking promotions. However, after serving my first term on the Capital City Clauses volunteer board in 2011, I realized the potential for growth and development beyond the front door of my high-rise corporate building. Joining a volunteer board not only enables you to pursue your passion or address a particular community need, but it also gives you a platform to lead committees, create strategic goals, and informally influence teams to achieve a common vision. These factors are critical to shaping your leadership journey, particularly if you are a young professional beginning your career who may not have that sort of latitude at your place of employment.
I firmly recommend participating on volunteer boards to test your strengths and learn more about yourself as a leader within a supportive, informal environment. I decided to run for President of the Capital City Clauses at the end of my second year on the board – I was the youngest person on the board by several years and it was my first venture into ‘formal’ leadership. I almost didn’t do it because I thought I lacked the requisite leadership skills to move the group forward. In the end, the experience made me a better leader in my community and ultimately in my workplace. It also led to me working with Lindsay to kick-start Women for Success Triangle years later and contribute meaningfully to an organization critical to the fabric of my Wake County community.
My advice? Find a community group that speaks to your interests and don’t hesitate when you see an opportunity to grow, even if it feels like a leap too far. Take the jump – these moments shape your leadership style just as powerfully as any promotion will … perhaps even more so than your next title change.
As you consider your leadership development strategy, expand your perspective beyond the office and into your community. Align your passions and your strengths to create an impact in new and different ways and you’ll find that your network and opportunities for future growth will expand exponentially. The path may not be quite as obvious, but that’s why it is an adventure!