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On Leadership and Letting Go
2013, Q2 (July 08, 2013)
By Andrea Wenger, Chapter President

Andrea Wenger
Andrea Wenger

Before I joined STC Carolina leadership, I thought that people like Larry Kunz, Meredith Blackwelder Kinder, Michael Harvey, and Anjela Dukes were gods of a sort. How did they manage to run an organization like STC Carolina? Provide quality programming month after month, a newsletter, chapter announcements—all while maintaining an upbeat attitude?

What I've learned after two years as chapter president is this: fifty percent of leadership is showing up.

Maybe more than fifty percent. Maybe eighty percent.

I still believe that my predecessors are smarter and more talented than me. I'm not a natural leader. But I ran for vice president and then president because I had learned what was required to do the job.

My commitment to STC Carolina stems in part from my belief in the mission of the chapter and of the profession. But I also wanted to raise my profile and become an STC influencer in order to further my own personal goals. Maybe you're in a similar situation. Say, for example, you lose your job, or you want to start your own business. Nobody knows who you are, and competition is tough.

The most amazing thing happens when you become an officer of a nonprofit. You gain instant rock star status within the community. People assume you're an expert, and they go around recommending you to others.

So what do? You volunteer for your professional organization. The most amazing thing happens when you become an officer of a nonprofit. You gain instant rock star status within the community. People assume you're an expert, and they go around recommending you to others. People you've never heard of want to get to know you. Except you're not really that much of an expert, and you don't really know how to do all the things they're recommending you for. But you know how to ask questions. You know how to accept help. And by showing up consistently, you learn.

None of us who've served have started out knowing what we were doing. We held our breath and jumped in, hoping someone would hold our head above water until we figured out how to swim. And that's what happens. The experienced people on the board help the less experienced people. In time, you learn. Sure, you make mistakes. Life gets in the way and you forget stuff. That's why there's a secretary to take minutes at board meetings. There's a record of all the stuff you forgot, so you can rush to finish it up at the last minute and look like the most organized and accomplished person in the world. It's called "fake it 'til you make it." We all do it, because life doesn't come with an instruction manual.

And then, once you've been in leadership for a while, you become one of the people keeping others from drowning. And it's surprising sometimes, because you don't remember how little you knew when you were a newbie. Colleagues start looking at you as if you're brilliant for knowing all those things you picked up along the way.

And when that happens, maybe it's time to move on. You've learned the skills the job could teach you. It's time to let someone else shine.

Leadership inevitably gives way to legacy. But when you're in the thick of it, caught up in the day-to-day activity, you're not thinking about the future. You're thinking about speakers and venues and budgets and making sure announcements go out on time. You're so busy pulling the weeds that you don't see the flowers blooming.

As my term as president comes to a close, I've realized that the most important role of a leader is to build a strong succession. It doesn't matter that the organization is flourishing in the moment if you don't build a path for future success.

It's been an honor to serve as STC Carolina president for the past two years. I'll be forever grateful to you for the opportunity and for the lessons I've learned. I look forward to my new role as immediate past president so I can get my head up out of the weeds and do some landscaping. I'm a better mentor than leader. The way I see it, my journey's just begun.

Andrea can be reached at awengerstc at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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