Leading Through Innovation As Young Professionals
As a child, I loved school, but I definitely fell victim to one of the trappings of performance-based academic systems; the perfectionist inside of me took over, and finding the “right” answer became the force that drove me. As I grew up and went out of the school system and into the world on my own, I struggled to make sense of my place in a messy world where there are so few right answers.
I’ll admit, the first gray hair I found a couple of years ago now has a few friends, and, with seven years in Parks and Recreation, I’m not as young a professional as I used to be. Still, it was a privilege for me to attend the NCRPA State Conference in October through the Young Professional Fellowship Program. It was my first NCRPA Conference, and I somehow got both myself and my inner perfectionist in with one conference badge! As an arts person in parks and recreation, sometimes I still struggle to make sense of my place in the profession. At the NCRPA Conference, I was again reminded of how wonderful the struggle to find your place can be, and I value the opportunity to share with you some of the questions and ideas that were sparked for me at the conference.
2016’s conference theme of “Leading Through Innovation” was a nod to both the excellent programs highlighted during sessions and the outstanding professionals that are making them happen. The further I get from the conference, though, the more I see the statement as something bigger with more important implications.
Leading through innovation is a concept for us to embrace as young professionals not only in the ways that we carry it back to our cities and towns, but also in the ways that we approach finding our places in the profession.
Our profession has been around for generations and each day I’m grateful for and reliant on the work that has come before me. As a young professional, how can I honor the legacy of our profession, learn from where we have been, and remain relevant in a changing world? How do I find the balance between stewardship and entrepreneurship that is key in our profession?
I think the answer lies in each of us.
From where I stand at the intersection of being a young professional and having some experience under my belt, the best thing about being a young professional is the gift of not having your path set for you yet. At this intersection, there’s plenty of room for innovation, not only in the realm of programming, but also in the ways that you can develop as a professional. Embracing the struggle to find your place can force you to ask questions about yourself and your goals that an easy, clear path might never force you to ask.
At the conference, Dr. Deb Jordan presented a session on program evaluation entitled “What we do: does it matter?” The more I’ve thought about Dr. Jordan’s concepts and best practices for program evaluation, the more I’ve come to think they could be interesting tools for a different type of evaluation. What if we began leading through innovation by taking an innovative approach to our professional development? What if we used these tools to evaluate and map our own professional growth? What if these were the questions we thought through as asked for guidance from our supervisors and mentors on our journey toward leading through innovation?
Here are Dr. Jordan’s program evaluation tips that I’m going to use as tools for my designing my own professional development:
Don’t ask questions if:
You already know the information.
You’re not going to use the information.
The information won’t matter.
You can’t do anything about it.
Why are you asking the question?
Will potential answers tell you what you want to know?
Will you get enough information to be able to make a decision and take action?
How are you going to analyze the responses?
As young professionals, are we asking the questions we need to figure out where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there? Are we asking enough questions of ourselves and our line of work?
In her conference keynote, Dr. Maureen Dougherty defined innovation as empowerment plus creativity. As young professionals trying to develop and lead through innovation, how can we seek empowerment from our leadership and how can we prepare to give empowerment as a gift to the next generation of professionals? What would happen if we set goals and performance measures for our own ability to empower the people we lead? What would happen if we set goals and performance measures for our own creativity as leaders and as public servants?
As stewards of public resources, we have to strive for efficiency and performance, and, especially as a young professional, it’s easy to put your full effort into trying to find the “right” way to handle the messy business of serving human beings. In pursuit of a “right” way to serve our communities, are we getting stuck in the weeds and missing the big picture? Are we trying so hard to find the “right” answer that we sometimes fail to realize that the question has changed? Do we think too much about our profession and not enough about the world that’s changing around us? Where’s the right balancing point?
As young professionals, we have choices. Will we stick to trying to find “right” answers? Or will we embrace our messy world and its lack of right answers and do our best to serve by growing and developing ourselves as leaders through innovation? What impact will our choice have on our profession and all of the young professionals who come after us?
I can’t wait to find out.
Meet the Author
Raised on a farm in rural NC, Eliza Kiser graduated from NC State University’s College of Design and started her career working as a project manager at an exhibit design firm. Eliza was born a public servant but took a winding road to find herself today serving artists of all ages as Director of Pullen Arts Center for Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. A child who loved playing with blocks, Eliza continues to enjoy trying to put ideas, people, tools, and resources together in new ways to build cool stuff.
Eliza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-996-6126.
If you are interested in being a guest author for the YPN Blog, please contact Nicole at email@example.com or 919-832-5868.