Belfast Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Ryan on encouraging next generation of leaders
The Penobscot Bay Pilot’s series, “Elements of Leadership,” features leaders in local communities who reflect on the motivations and challenges faced by those in leadership roles.
For the second installment of the series, Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Ryan responded to six questions, in his own voice.
What do you wish you knew about leadership in high school and college?
I didn’t think about leadership in high school, or even college! It was some force that I took for granted, and I did not spend time thinking about how it affected me or what role I might play. I became more aware of and comfortable in leadership roles as I gained experience in business and community roles later in life.
Some young people may have role models or natural opportunities to exercise leadership in their school years. But if some young people don’t feel ready for or comfortable with leadership roles in their high school or college years, I think they should take their time, observe others and try out small roles that they can handle with comfort. They’ll grow. And if you didn’t start early, don’t fret. You can still move down that path at your own pace and contribute.
What are the keys to developing the next generation of leaders?
Today’s leaders should be conscientious to allow young people to practice leadership roles with their support, allowing the young leaders to build the skills and experiences that they will need. This experience can certainly be programmed into high school or even younger, but for some, it will come later in their growth.
Practice makes young people better at assuming leadership roles, and guided practice can be a great gift to the next generation of leaders. It’s also an example of planning for succession, a critical activity for the longer term success of a business, institution or community.
What steps can the next generation of leaders take to put them on the right path?
Try it out! As with any skill, a person has to practice, experience what works and what doesn’t, and especially learn the communication techniques to bring people along with you.
Also, try to identify a role model you admire and watch what they do, and how they handle situations. Asking them to mentor you can be the most powerful way to gain these skills and experiences, while being guided and supported along the way.
How important is networking for successful leaders? How can the next generation of leaders best network right now?
Networking is important in any business or community role in order to stay in touch with what is going on, learn important ideas and techniques from others, and build relationships that support you and you can draw upon when needed. For leaders, these connections are extremely important since all these benefits become more important as you work to build and maintain leadership skills.
It seems that networking methods are changing with greater pressure on people’s time, especially for younger people with growing families, and with social media channels providing time-flexible and geographically-unlimited means of connection. How to build networks for support and information sharing may depend on your location (rural vs. urban), time commitments (ability to attend scheduled events vs. off-hour communication) and availability of peers and mentors in your immediate settings (especially for remote workers). Each developing leader should build their own repertoire and try to adapt over time as conditions change.
As a leader, how do you ensure your vision becomes a reality?
First, communicating your vision to others effectively and helping them to get on board is one of the more difficult skills to develop as a leader. It’s not just a matter of telling people what your idea is, or trying to convince them that it is the right thing to do. Instead, a good leader conveys the vision of what we can accomplish together, why and how, and helps people to believe that it is what they want to do!
You’re not fully leading if you are simply handing out assignments for people to complete. A leader brings people along toward a shared goal and makes each feel invested in the results. Convincingly conveying that vision and sense of purpose is a true test of leadership.
In addition to communicating the direction, a successful leader will know how to reward, redirect and stay engaged with the team around him or her. It’s not always (or ever?) a smooth path to important accomplishments, so a leader must stay tuned in and coach the team effectively. Caring, staying engaged and being clear are all important as you proceed along the path.
What’s the best advice that has been given to you?
Two things. First, listen. Listen to those around you. Listen to those who doubt your direction. Listen to your team and their questions and concerns. Allow for silences if it helps you to fully hear what others have to say. Don’t prepare your answer until you have absorbed and understood what others are saying to you. Accept the ideas of others and build a successful plan through inclusion.
Second, you don’t need to have all the answers to be the leader. You will be successful if you help your team to be successful. Also, allow your team members to shine as you stand back and support them. Success comes from a coordinated effort, and long-term success comes from developing the team members to grow and contribute on an ongoing basis. A successful leader will be identified from the success of the team, not just from their own personal actions.
Reach George Harvey at email@example.com.