When your school hosts a women’s leadership conference, you shed a few tears of joy, wonder how you got so lucky, and pray you can will yourself to get up at the unearthly time of 7:30 a.m. to make it. That is, at least, the range of emotions I felt when signing up for James Madison University’s Women in Leadership Conference. Strong, powerful, soul-centered, and impactful JMU alumni speaking of their experience? This is what we need to see more of in general, especially involved in candid and open conversations with college students.
A lot, most, of the discussions were centered on leadership in the working field. At first, this made me uncomfortable. I have read all the tips, how to “come off” a certain way during an interview, the desperate need to network and make connections, and other countless suggestions to get your ass in an office chair. It overwhelms me, saddens me, and occasionally I want to throw my computer out the window. Yet, the women speaking at this conference pleasantly surprised me. They offered fresh spins on old information, adapted leadership to fit what worked for them, and spoke from a perspective unlike ones I’ve heard or read before. Get your mental doggy bag ready, here are some of the biggest takeout takeaways, golden nuggets from the conference:
1. Don’t be afraid to reach out blindly.
Keynote speaker Allison Browne Weiss, an accomplished major media journalist, discussed the importance of being a listener over a networker. Find people who do what you want to do, or those who you find interesting in whatever manner, and shoot them an e-mail! By just asking about them and their work (people love talking about themselves, hello), instead of plainly asking for a job, you will acquire crazy knowledge and perhaps even a solid mentor.
2. Be a thoughtful leader.
Often times, by which I am referring to the hierarchal structure of the patriarchy we are living in, we view leaders as managers. Those who work above us, demanding, tracking, dictating our every move. Being a thoughtful leader requires your work alongside others. It’s about seeing the strengths in others, and drawing them out in the most productive and fruitful way. That being said, realizing the strengths of others isn’t the only thing you should be conscious of…
3. Focus on your own strengths, and how to draw them out.
There is power when you can forget about working on your weaknesses and instead, play to your strengths. We live in a country that focuses on the negative, yet when we choose to instead focus on the things we are already good at, we maximize time and effort, simultaneously making room on a team for those who have strengths different than ours. This will ultimately make you a better worker, and I think, a stronger, more confident person.
When Dr. Joan Johnson was asked the question, “What are the qualities you look for in someone who is joining your team?” She replied with one word- teachability! Now, Johnson is in fact the Director of the Office of Teacher Education in Virginia, but nevertheless I loved this point. I often find myself thinking how unskilled I am for the job market, for the jobs and career paths I actually want to be a part of. But wowzah, am I ready to learn. Johnson spoke vehemently on the topic of teachability, exclaiming that someone has to be willing to learn, to be flexible and engaged with the common goal at hand. There is power in not knowing, but being willing and open to learn.
5. Create your own mission statement.
Esther Nizer was an enthusiastic panelist who spoke keenly on the importance of a personal mission statement (online tools to create one here). If you are asked to participate in or with something that doesn’t align with your statement, it’s okay to say no. It’s also important to note that mission statements will and should change as your life and leadership does.
These were only a few of the many nuggets of wisdom I took from the strong and wonderful women who spoke at this conference. I definitely wanted to see more discussion of their experience as women in their respective lines of work, as I think it is important to see how their perspective differentiates. But I was over the freakin moon when they discussed the importance of honest communication, adaptability, teachability, listening skills, humor, and character. Finally, I thought. I could see myself owning these strengths, being determined and tenacious, a leader in my community, whilst cracking a few jokes of course.
Featured image credit to @KatieLese