This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of California’s first comprehensive afterschool legislation. Since then, the investment in California’s most vulnerable children and young people has grown to $630 million a year and redefined what quality expanded learning means and looks like. Those of us who were privileged to lead the way through uncharted terrain worked in complex organizational environments in cities, counties, school districts and nonprofit organizations. We explored new possibilities and created new realities. We experimented with program designs, developed exemplary practices and strived to ensure that what we did mattered. We made good decisions and bad mistakes and learned from both.
Like us, your knowledge, talents, abilities and experiences will determine what you’re capable of doing and how well you will do it, and your actions will determine how far you, and the field, will go. As part of the next generation of leaders, you have a unique opportunity to create new pathways to the future. We’re counting on you to take us to the next level! Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
Lesson #1: Know where you’re going and why.
- Leadership isn’t a position. It’s a choice. What you do today will determine what happens tomorrow and in the months and years ahead. It begins by holding a powerful vision of what could be and inspiring others to fall in love with the destination. This isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It will remind you that not everything that is achievable is important, but alignment with your vision is. It makes it possible for you to start each day with a sense of purpose and end each day with the knowledge that you’ve done your best to accomplish what you set out to do. Make every day count. Even if you come up short, when you know where you’re going and are doing everything you can to get there, you’ll be moving in the right direction.
Lesson #2: Put people first.
- Achieving your potential as a leader depends on your purpose and passion, your skills and influence and your intention. In the end, your success will depend on the success of the people who work with and for you. It’s up to you to help build their capacity to achieve their potential. See yourself as a beacon of light, a partner and a guide-by-the-side, not as a supervisor. Don’t just develop skills, develop people. Encourage them to learn more, do more and become more. Motivate them to perform and achieve at higher and higher levels. Give them the support they need to do their work to the best of their ability. They’ll become more competent and confident, and they won’t disappoint you.
Lesson #3: It’s all about relationships.
- No matter what systems you put in place, how many reports you write, how many policies or procedures you establish or how many fires you put out, nothing will matter as much as the relationships you build. Walk shoulder-to-shoulder with your staff, not head and shoulders above them. Recognize and build on their strengths and be there for them when they need help. Let them know you care about them. In Maya Angelou’s words: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Make them feel valued and valuable. Challenge them to grow and set the example. Be principle-centered, consistent and compassionate and people will follow you even in the toughest times.
Lesson #4: Show up and stand up for what you believe in.
- Becoming an authentic leader is an act of trust and an expression of hope. People will pay more attention to what you do than what you say. If you want them to be positive, enthusiastic and eager to learn, be their role model. If you want them to communicate openly and honestly with you and with each other, give them your undivided attention and spend more time listening than talking. If you want them to be responsible, be consistent and keep your commitments. Set the example and hold yourself accountable for what happens (or doesn’t) first.
Lesson #5: Don’t blind-side people.
- To be an effective leader you have to be bold, courageous, forward thinking and willing to take risks – and embrace change when most people resist it. Remember that everyone is more likely to buy into what they help create. Prepare the folks you work with before you make decisions or take actions that impact them. Involve them in the process. Walk hand-in-hand with them, help them see the advantages change can bring and ask for their suggestions. Explain what will happen, why it will happen and how it will affect them personally. Listen to their concerns, acknowledge their apprehensions and give them the tools they’ll need to willingly and successfully navigate through the process
Step #6: Make your time count.
Time management is life management. Find the time that others don’t by putting first things first. Establish priorities and keep them. Learn to delegate. Say yes to what matters most and no to what doesn’t. Deal with things as they come up, not after they’ve already gotten out of control. Stay focused on one thing at a time and refuse to multi-task. Don’t talk about being too busy. It isn’t a badge of honor. It’s counterproductive, stressful, sets a horrible example and leads to burnout. Keep it simple: Make it a habit to stay focused on what matters most and let the rest go.
Step #7: Take responsibility for what happens or doesn’t.
- As a leader, it’s up to you to create the kind of culture where you and your staff are accountable and act accordingly. Become more self-aware and socially aware. Don’t make excuses or blame others when things go wrong. The more you are willing to accept responsibility, the more credibility you’ll have. Remember that the quality of your life, and your work, isn’t just about what happens to you. It’s about how you respond. Make a commitment to respond in ways that add to your integrity, not diminish it
Step #8. Create the future!
- You have a unique opportunity to determine how far you, your staff, your program and our field will go. Set the bar high enough to really make a real difference and wide enough to be sure everyone benefits. Lead with passion, purpose and intention. Do good and have fun. Give everyone something amazing to see in their future. Fill it with hope and possibility. And work hard every day to bring it into reality!
Breakfast? Yogurt, granola, blueberries and coffee.