Sarah Rose Dorton’s Personal Theory of Leadership

Guest blogger: Each summer the William & Mary DC Office hosts Summer Institutes.  The Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement explores the practice of leadership.  Students complete a personal theory of leadership.  Here’s a snapshot from Sarah Rose Dorton‘s conclusions on leadership development.  We hope it inspires you to consider leadership.

While there are many important types of leaders and many important leadership qualities, it is most important to know what kind of leadership works best for you both as a personal strategy and for your work environment. Many leadership qualities are important across the board, but certain strategies are more effective for certain sectors. For example, effective leadership in a small non-profit will likely not look the same as effective leadership in a Fortune 500 company. Since I am interested in and currently working in the non-profit sector, it will be the base for my leadership theory. Some of the best qualities that I bring to the table as a leader are emotional intelligence, respect, empathy, and drive. There are also many leadership qualities that I think are largely important, but that I lack or am currently working to develop further. In the workplace, intimate leadership environments are where I thrive; I appreciate teamwork, communication, transparency and hard work, all components of effective small-organization leadership. I will discuss how the leadership qualities I possess and value relate to a specific leadership style and in conclusion show how both of these compose a leadership theory specific to small non-profit organizations.

Through necessity I have refined my mode of expression and learned how to communicate my ideas and express my intentions and passions clearly to others. All of these qualities and skills are vitally important to small-group leadership. First and foremost being able to express yourself allows you to take opportunities to stand out as a leader in your group. When it comes to leadership it is not enough for you to only be able to communicate with people, you must be able to express your own ideas clearly so that diverse recipients can understand them. I think of Mike Curtin at DC Central Kitchen, in a short period of time he highlighted where his organization started, the process it went through in development, and his goals for the future. He did this clearly, effectively, and humbly, but at the same time inspired passion for his cause in everyone in the room.

Other important traits that I both value and possess are respect, emotional intelligence, humility and drive. Directly counter to the “Great Man Theory” which we discussed in class, I think it is a combination of respect for your co-workers and a healthy dose of humility that facilitate a relationship of trust which is essential to leadership. No longer is it enough to establish yourself as authority and rely solely on your charisma and air of confidence to engender trust in others, you have to have experience to legitimize your position. Also necessary in that equation is competence and hard work. If you conduct your work accurately and diligently making use of your skills and talent, but with a humble and respectful attitude you will foster trust in your leadership from your organization. A stellar example of this is John Bridgeland, he spoke of himself modestly but his accomplishments and leadership positions spoke for him. He has had to prove himself in his different positions but his hard work and dedication to his values has put him in a place of significant importance. Not only does he serve as the CEO of Civic Enterprises, but he also serves on the boards for other respected non-profits as well.

It is not enough to have passion and dedication, a leader stands out from a group because they have vision for the future. They have ideas and strategies for the organization that are unique and innovative. They are able to share those ideas and use them to inspire others towards the end goal. Inspiration is especially important for non-profits because the work is often extremely challenging with little financial reward, the end goal and achieving positive ends for your cause is what will motivate your workers. We read and discussed this notion as one of the five practices of exemplary leadership. As leaders share these plans and new ideas and begin to implement them in the organization they will be put in the position of making many important decisions. Often times these decisions will need to be made on the spot or relatively quickly with confidence. It is important for a leader to be able to make good decisions in short periods of time.

Developing leadership takes time; it is a constant learning process and good leadership changes depending on your environment and position in an organization. It is important to be constantly aware of your unique position and how your skill set and experience can best further the mission of your organization and constantly reassess your leadership style. Through my experience and observations I find communication skills, personal traits, and the ability to inspire a shared vision are key components to leadership in small organizations, especially non-profits. A leader must first be able to have the communication skills to work in a team. These include respect, being able to listen to and understand multiple perspectives, and being able to communicate your ideas back, key components also of transformational leadership. Being able to work with others to build up your organization maximizes the benefits for everyone involved and the organization as a whole. What makes a leader stand out from a team is their personal traits. For small non-profits, effective leaders need to embody traits such as humility, empathy, drive, emotional intelligence or self-awareness, and decisiveness. The combination of this set of traits with exceptional teamwork and communication skills will create trust in your leadership which is the foundation of any effective leadership theory or style. Finally, what sets apart an exemplary leader from an average leader in the non-profit world is the ability to inspire a shared vision in their organization and further to donors, volunteers, and the community that they work in.

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