Cultivate Your Leadership Skills

Who comes to mind when you think of a positive leader? Do you think of a leader in your workplace, family, community organization, or your local, state, or national government? What do you admire most about them? Is it their passion, integrity, confidence, compassion, expertise, ability to inspire, evoke trust, and empower others?

Reflect on your leadership qualities and the aspirations you have to make an impact in your professional life and community. Think of times when you took the initiative to make a positive change. What skills and strengths did you use to make it happen? What leadership skills would you like to strengthen?

Whether you are just starting to take on leadership roles or are an experienced leader, here are ideas for you to continue cultivating your leadership experience.

  1. Professional Associations: Professional associations strive to be at the leading edge in information about the profession they represent. They offer multiple avenues for their members to gain leadership experience. For example, as an association member, you can join the conference planning committee or share your expertise through presenting at a conference, roundtable event, or meeting. Keep in mind that if you are new to presenting at conferences, you don’t have to present alone; you can collaborate with a colleague or fellow Walden student on a presentation. After you build your reputation within the association, consider running for a position on the association’s board. Explore joining the regional or state chapter of the association for access to increased opportunities for involvement.
  2. Student and Alumni Organizations: Another excellent way to build leadership skills is through student and alumni organizations. Student organizations focus on a range of common interests, such as academic scholarship and community service. Student organizations offer opportunities for leadership development through event planning and coordination, team building, public speaking, outreach, and board membership.
  3. Workplace: If you are employed, look for opportunities to strengthen your reputation and develop your leadership skills within your workplace. Express your interest in working on challenging projects that involve collaborating across departments with multiple team members. Become the “go-to expert” in a high-value skill for your department and offer to share your expertise through mentoring and training. With the approval of your supervisor, analyze a recurring problem and recommend solutions. You do not need to be in a supervisory or managerial position to gain leadership experience.
  4. Community Organizations: There are many opportunities to take on leadership roles as a volunteer in nonprofits, schools, or faith-based organizations. Find an organization with a mission that aligns with your values and reach out to explore ways that you can support the organization. Examples include event planning, training, teaching, community outreach, mentoring, organizing, advocacy, fund-raising, and board membership. Many communities also have volunteer citizen advisory boards that advise government agencies and organizations on topics such as economic development, criminal justice, environmental protection, and parks and recreation.
  5. Corporate Board Positions or Elected Office: If you already have substantial leadership experience and want to take your leadership skills to the next level, consider applying for membership on a corporate board of directors or running for school board, city council, mayor, or for a state or national office. Board membership and elected positions offer the opportunity to polish your leadership skills and make a significant impact. Keep in mind that these positions require considerable commitment and time; you will be called upon to use your expertise and communication, persuasion, negotiation, public speaking, and research skills.

If you aspire to higher-level leadership roles, start building your leadership skills and experience early! And remember to include your leadership involvement on your resume and LinkedIn profile!


Written by Denise Pranke, Walden University Senior Career Advisor