How to Find Your Path as a Leader

Yes, you need to be decisive and a good manager. But just as crucial, one expert says, is knowing yourself and making your leadership style a function of who you are.

As this year’s ASAE Annual Meeting and Expo continues, there’s likely a little bit of a trepidation among two groups of people in Atlanta. Established leaders may be concerned that they’re doing enough to grow and develop in their role. For those aspiring to that role, the main question is: What can I do to get there?

Attendees can take some reassurance in the fact that, for the next couple of days, they’re in the right place—Monday’s slate of sessions alone covers career planning, DEI, governance, AI, Gen Z, and more. There’s also some reassurance to be found in the fact that leaders of all sorts are wrestling with those issues.

And there are some common threads to the solutions. In his new book Leap to Leader, leadership and management expert Adam Bryant discusses the common challenges people on the higher rungs of the career ladder face, and how to address them. In an excerpt recently published by Harvard Business Review Press, he outlines matters of decisiveness, team management, setting expectations, and more.

Leaders create narratives that they bring to life with personal stories.

But a key theme of Bryant’s is that those actions, while important to leadership, aren’t really at the heart of it. Leadership isn’t a button-pushing job; it’s your identity, just empowered to make decisions. It’s being decisive, as yourself; managing teams and setting expectations, as yourself. As one executive tells Bryant, one part of your job is to ensure that “people won’t have the burden of always thinking, I wonder what he or she would do.”

To get to that point, Bryant writes, it helps in part to surround yourself with good advisors, formal or informal. “Be relentless about asking for input,” he writes. “Show appreciation when people respond and let them know how they informed your thinking or prompted a behavioral change.”

But you’ll also need to do some work on your own to identify your blind spots and recognize the impact your behavior has on an organization. After all, lots of people are looking your way. As Bryant writes: “Everything you say and do has an outsize impact. People are studying you closely and will project meaning onto every gesture and offhand comment.”

That can be intimidating, which is why understanding your own personality as a leader is so important—if people are reading your every move, consistency on your part will ensure they read you the way you want. Bryant prescribes working on a “personal narrative,” which can seem a bit like a put-on, or like faking it. But you’re not donning a superhero suit; you’re just thinking through what your identity as a leader looks like to outsiders. And if you know yourself, it won’t be fake. “You want to create a narrative that feels unique to you, that takes others’ perspectives into account, and that you can bring to life with personal stories,” Bryant writes. You’re still you, just leading.

That’s not always easily done. But for those at #ASAE23, there are plenty of opportunities to commiserate with others who are doing that same work, one way or another. And apart and beyond the conference, there are plenty of opportunities, alone and with others, to develop those skills. For everybody, what Bryant says is true: “Leadership lessons are all around you. Take in as many as you can and make the time to reflect on what you discover.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!