Core Growth for Emerging Leaders
By Katie Ronan
I recently had the opportunity to participate in “Core Growth for Emerging Leaders: Building Water’s Future Leaders,” a training program under NACWA and Core Consulting Group’s recently formed Core Leadership offering. The program is based on a regional cohort model of 15-20 participants from several utilities in the same region coming together to form a class. However, participants also have the opportunity to collaborate nationally with several other cohorts across the country. The program curriculum is based on the Wiley’s Work of Leaders framework and incorporates a variety of peer-to-peer networking opportunities, executive speaker sessions and facility tours.
Leadership From Any Level
When I found out that I had been chosen by my organization, The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, to participate in the program I was both honored and excited, but truthfully a bit skeptical. My cohort included four other participants from my organization as well as participants from two other public water and wastewater utilities in Massachusetts: The Boston Water and Sewer Commission and the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission. It felt relatively early in my career and unlike most of the other participants, I am not a manager or supervisor in my current role. For these reasons, I feared I was not a worthy candidate for the program.
Despite this, I dove into the program with enthusiasm and an open mind. My initial hesitation was quickly quelled as I began to realize that true leadership is much bigger than management alone. I learned that leadership requires the ability to envision an improved future state, to build alignment around that vision, and to execute a plan to achieve it. I also realized that the skills and strategies I was learning could be applied to leadership at any level.
Styles and Strengths
Over the six-month program, our instructor took a personal approach to help each member of our cohort identify their unique leadership style. We quickly realized how different each of our individual styles and strengths were. Some of us took a more dominant or influential approach to leadership, while others projected a calm and steadiness. The most common style in our cohort was a conscientious and deliberate style. Not surprising, given that our cohort was made up largely of engineers.
We learned how to capitalize on our unique strengths as well as to identify and be aware of potential blind spots based on our styles. It became clear that truly effective communication requires a deep understanding of ourselves and our personal leadership styles, as well as an awareness and ability to perceive the diverse styles of others. To do that, we learned a variety of tools and techniques to communicate clearly and effectively, in our own voice and with our audience in mind.
Personally, I learned that my strength as a leader lies largely in my positivity and enthusiasm for my work. Although this may not surprise those who know me, it was an affirming revelation for me. I realized the importance of being boldly authentic to myself and my unique leadership style. These natural traits are in fact my strengths to capitalize on. I also learned that while I tend to improvise and follow my intuition, it is important to also provide structure, rationale, and reasoning for those around me who may crave it.
Of course, 2020 looked different than most years. While the program had previously been hosted largely in-person, our curriculum was moved mostly online due to the pandemic. At the end of our six-month program, our cohort was finally able to come together for a final two-day, in-person workshop. What surprised me most, was how effective the virtual format had been for learning and how well I had gotten to know the other members of my cohort. Although we had met only via Zoom, it felt like returning to a group of friends and well-known colleagues. Going forward the program will utilize a hybrid model, which I have no doubt will enrich the experience and strike a balance between convenience, accessibility and collaboration.
In addition to developing relationships within our cohort, there were multiple opportunities throughout the program to connect with the other participants and cohorts across the country. Several virtual roundtable discussions allowed for informal discussion about the curriculum as well as a variety of other topics related to our roles, organizations and industry. It was comforting to find that my colleagues from water and wastewater utilities across the country seemed to share similar challenges and opportunities in their work. These sessions provided an invaluable platform to share ideas, brainstorm and expand our personal professional networks.
Power and Potential
Along with exploring our personal leadership styles, the program covered a variety of other valuable topics. We discussed the importance of self-care through the lens of leadership and strategies to put it into practice. We learned techniques for organization and prioritization to increase efficiency and effectiveness. We honed our ability to vision, build alignment and execute our ideas. Perhaps most importantly, we learned each of us has the power and potential to be an effective leader. Each member of our cohort graduated with the knowledge to capitalize on their unique individual style and strengths, while maintaining awareness of potential weaknesses. The program empowered me to be confident in myself and my ability to lead at my organization, now and into the future.
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
Enrollment for the next cycle of professional development offerings is now open. Learn more at corewaterleaders.org.