Prepare to Lead, Part 2: Know where the opportunities are – and share your talents

As an introvert, I often feel that my high-quality work (that I do in my office, alone) should speak for itself. Sometimes it does – I am in marketing, after all, so my work is pretty public – but more often than not, I’ve learned, I need to leave the comfort of my personal space and share what I’ve done. When I do that, I am much more successful; people know what I’m working on and have confidence that I am working with the organization’s best interests in mind. When I leave my office, I also have more opportunity to find out what other people are working on, which leads to all kinds of crazy synergy and amazing work by everyone.

As an introvert, this will never be my first instinct. But it is essential to “get out there,” both inside and outside your organization, as you prepare to lead.

In my last post, I shared Bridgespan Group has predicted a significant leadership gap looming in the public and nonprofit sector, as baby boomers retire – and five key actions you can begin to take now to prepare to fill the gap. Now that you’ve had some time to think about the first action (Upgrade Your Talent), we can move on to the second and third: Know Where the Opportunities Are, and Share Your Talents.

I know it can be exhausting to always be thinking about the next assignment, the next promotion or lateral move, the next job.  But unless you also know where the opportunities are, how to tap into them, and share your talents, you will not necessarily be seen as the best candidate when you are ready for a bigger challenge and more responsibility.

It’ll come as no surprise to you that to know where the opportunities are, it is important to network with your peers and in your professional specialty. Take advantage of your memberships in AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals), Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), NASW (National Association of Social Workers) and other groups to get to know others both in your industry and in your field.

But you may be surprised to learn that online job boards are more popular among nonprofit executives as a means to recruit candidates than other professional networks. Some job boards – such as Minnesota Council of Nonprofits job search – post opportunities for internships, board positions and other volunteer positions with nonprofits, all of which are great experiences to add to your growing resume.

I highly recommend using job boards as more than a job search tool, however. From job boards, you can learn what jobs are in high demand, what skills are sought after for different positions, and, in some cases, what the salary range may be for a position. Using job boards in this way has helped me identify what skills I needed to upgrade for my current position, as well as those I need to work on and develop as I prepare to take on more challenges.

(For example, if you know you’d like to one day become Executive Director of a nonprofit, take a look at the minimum and preferred requirements as well as the posted job descriptions, and determine what skills you will need to develop now while you prepare to lead.)

Once you have some idea of where the opportunities are, share your talents – and build your resume! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Join a nonprofit board. Board service indicates a level of commitment to the nonprofit sector – and is a great way to learn and showcase your leadership skills.
  2. Take on a leadership or committee role in a professional organization. Again, a great opportunity to learn, as well as to raise your public profile.
  3. Get out there and share what you know, via articles or blog posts in your areas of expertise, speaking engagements, etc. I like to think of this as “say YES!” when offered an opportunity to share what you know; you never know where it will lead.

Speaking of your resume, don’t forget to keep it up to date with all the skills you’ve been developing as you prepare to lead. You may need it sooner than you expect.

What are you doing to stay aware of opportunities? How are you sharing your talents? Are you preparing to lead?