gene woodward
Gene Woodard, Director of Building Services Department, Custodial Services and UW Recycling at the University of Washington

The question remains: What more can individuals do to prepare themselves for professional growth?

The first bit of advice you can give prospective leaders is to think big but start small. This means being strategic. They must decide whether they simply want personal growth alone or growth leading to upward mobility (including a higher position with a broader scope of responsibility). Individuals can greatly increase their odds for achieving success by deciding this first and then planning the steps necessary to get there.  

Below are more successful tips that managers can give potential leaders:

• Urge them to conduct an honest self-assessment. Ask staff to identify gaps in their skill set, knowledge, education or understanding of the organization. Do they take advantage of all available learning opportunities?

• Encourage them to research how to achieve growth in the areas they have identified, first through resources offered within the organization and elsewhere — then get started.

• Suggest they find a mentor who has the skills or traits that they aspire to have. The pair should meet regularly, share advice and learn from past experiences.

• Recommend emerging leaders read every day, especially about topics such as communication, working successfully with others and biographies about successful people in leadership.

• Help them admit they don’t know everything. No matter their age or position, they should remain curious and humble enough about the fact that they could learn something new from anyone they encounter during the course of the day.

• Encourage them to seek out extra assignments that expose them to different elements in the organization, especially pertaining to the next professional level. When someone asks the group who would like to participate in a special project, these individuals shouldn’t simply avoid eye contact, hoping they will not be selected. Instead, they should raise their hand and jump into the assignment. Then make sure they understand what is expected and try to exceed those expectations. 

• Remind them to lead — no matter one’s position or title, one’s behavior can influence anyone else. Everyone has the potential to be a leader; contribute leadership appropriately and especially when needed.

• Urge them to join professional associations such at APPA, AHE or IEHA, and suggest they assume leadership positions. Among many benefits, participation increases networking opportunities. 

If you are a manager, look within your organization and think about how soon someone new may need to fill key positions. If you are someone seeking promotional opportunities, look to see how soon the organization will be looking to replace leaders preparing to exit. 

I suspect the time is now.

Gene Woodard is the Director of Building Services Department, Custodial Services and UW Recycling at the University of Washington. He serves as a founding member of the Healthy Schools Campaign, Green Clean Schools Steering Committee, and an advisory board member of Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine.

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