Learning to Lead

Do you see yourself as a leader? Leadership encompasses many skills and attributes. Of course, a leader is someone with vision who makes high-level decisions.  A leader is someone you can usually pick out of a crowd. It seems that their chromosomes equipped them with their leadership abilities. They are the ones with loud voices who get things done! Leadership is so much more. I have come to realize that leaders are not born. Leadership is a learned skill. You must believe in yourself and take action.


People may view you as a leader and you may not even realize it. I am employed at Chemeketa Community College, as a manager, supervisor, a go-to person, but I never thought of myself as a leader. For one thing, I don’t make high-level decisions at the college! Moreover, I don’t have a loud voice, but I can get things done. Some years ago, a college dean was speaking to a group of employees and extended an invitation to a work session with the purpose of reinventing the college’s mission, vision and values. Later that day I asked her if “people like me” were included in the invitation. I was thinking it was for deans, vice presidents and the like. Her reply was, “Oh you mean strong, confident women, a leader like yourself? Yes, you are definitely included.” She saw something in me that I had not recognized. I will be forever grateful to her for saying that. She probably didn’t realize the power in those words. I changed my mindset that very day. I discovered that it is possible to lead from where you are.  My tips to nurture and grow the leader in you follow.  


Find your passion. It’s easier to lead when your heart is in it.  I have a keen interest in health and wellness. When the college wellness committee was looking for members, I joined and helped plan several events including a team pedometer challenge - a competition for the most steps. Quite a few teams signed up and tracked their steps. We figured out that the number of steps the employees took stretched the distance from our campus to the Grand Canyon and back! I also helped organize an employee golf tournament and a health fair, all of which led to becoming the chair of the committee, a leadership position. Another passion I have is writing. The college was looking for someone to write a nomination for one of our board members for a prestigious award. The person who was asked to write it had no interest in doing it. My voice inside said, “You can’t do it. You don’t have the expertise.” Maybe not, but I have the interest and the passion, so I said; “I’ll write it!” Since then, I have written numerous award nominations. I am especially proud of the national award nomination I wrote for the president’s executive assistant. This delightful woman has dedicated her entire career to higher education. She won and travelled to Washington, DC to accept the award. I was there in spirit, being a leader in my own way, leading her straight to the podium for her acceptance speech.    


Leaders need self-confidence. Reach for the stars! Do something totally out of your comfort zone! I signed up for a triathlon. Me. I knew I could ride a bike, but that is only one of the three legs of the triathlon! Admittedly, I am a gym enthusiast but not a competitive swimmer or a runner. Since my birthdays are beginning to pile up and my window of opportunity is shrinking for this type of activity, I decided to sign up. My goal was to cross the finish line. I trained myself (not a good idea. I could have used a swim coach) and completed it. It was not easy and I didn’t finish first (or even in the top 50), but it sure gave me confidence knowing I could handle this challenge. Self-confidence is so useful. Store it in an easily accessible place in your mind and pull it out every time there is a difficult decision to be made or a complex problem that needs a solution. When the time comes to ascend the ladder of opportunity through presentations and interviews – keep it handy!


You can strengthen and build your leadership foundation through volunteering. Daily I see something that needs to be done.  There’s always a piece of trash that needs to be picked up, someone that needs help carrying a heavy load, an event that needs to be organized, a meeting that needs to be led. If you have ever attended a time management seminar, they always recommend learning to say no. I recommend you learn to say yes! Do not let that pesky inner voice stop you from volunteering to chair a committee or organize a function. Of course, you can find the time to do it. Everything is manageable if it’s broken into pieces and don’t forget you can delegate! That is definitely that mark of a great leader! It’s a wonderful way to network too. Your leadership talents will shine and people will think of you when potential leadership and job opportunities come up. Volunteer experience looks great on a resume. Yearly I coordinate bell ringers for the Salvation Army. My heart swells as the red kettles fill.


Take advantage of training opportunities. Sharpen your leadership skills. The OWHE has professional development opportunities including a conference every year. The Oregon AAWCC (American Association for Women in Community Colleges) offers a summer institute for emerging leaders, as well as summer and fall conferences to network and stretch professionally. Take a class. Find a passion and pursue it. I started my leadership journey with AAWCC by volunteering to help with a workshop at a conference, which led to presenting a conference workshop about my passion - wellness, which led to becoming the chair of the summer conference and then the chair of the fall conference and then to becoming president of the Oregon statewide chapter. Small incremental steps with increasing responsibility built my self-confidence and allowed me to stretch my leadership wings all along the journey.


Lead the way and then get out of the way. As your leadership skills and abilities grow, remember who helped you along the way and then be sure to develop skills in others. When you delegate tasks and projects, you are helping build new leaders. Become a mentor. I am so fortunate that others saw potential in me when I did not. Pay it forward.


I can now confidently say that I am a leader and lead from wherever I am. I also learned to use a microphone to help me speak up! I have nurtured my self-esteem to quell that voice inside me that says, “You can’t do that.”  I have confidence in my leadership abilities and realize it is a lifelong learning process. You are the person responsible for where you are today and where you want to go. I want to encourage you to embrace your passion and talents, develop your leadership skills, stand up and say, “I’ll do it!  I’ll help! Sign me up! I’ll lead the way!”


Learning Resources:

Getting it Done: How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Roger Fisher and John Richardson

The Accidental Leader: What to Do When You’re Suddenly in Charge by Mike Finley and Harvey Robbins

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven

Organized Living in a Disorganized World by Barbara Hemphill (http://ezinearticles.com/?Organized-Living-in-a-Disorganized-World&id=3758)

Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet - http://www.davidmarquet.com

AAWCC Oregon Chapter - http://www.aawccoregon.org/

OWHE - https://www.owhe.org/about-us


Lynn Irvin is an Administrative Coordinator at Chemeketa Community College and can be reached at lynn.irvin@chemeketa.edu

Connect with Leaders

Networking with women, non-binary, and trans leaders in the state of Oregon will enhance your professional experience. We look forward to creating opportunities to meet, connect and develop together.

Engage in Professional Development

Participate in opportunities for professional growth through educational programs that are provided by our campus contact network right on your campus, in your region or at a state wide gathering. The focus is on providing you with the leadership skills and mentoring necessary to lead.

Lead Change in Higher Education

Higher education in the state of Oregon provides a dynamic environment where women, non-binary, and trans people can impact change. Whether in the community college, 4-year institution, public, or private, we want you to be a part of shaping the future of higher education by empowering and affirming your leadership abilities.