5 Steps to Lifelong Learning for Leaders!

Learning should never stop with the receipt of a diploma or a degree.  It should be a lifelong process.  This is especially so for leaders who take charge in their industries.  Individuals who aspire to be a leader, advocate, or working professional should take as many steps as they can to be a lifelong learner.

Why is this so important?

Because, the world is consistently changing and growing.  Technology is rapidly shifting, and all of these complex changes affect how various industries operate, and how this can change the career landscape.  To truly stand out and prepare for growth in an industry, individuals should continually educate themselves.  This can provide the competitive edge to take your leadership position, company, or industry to new levels.

Here are 5 steps to lifelong learning!

1.  If growth in your field requires a higher level degree or certification, go for it!  Gaining an education is more accessible than ever as colleges and universities add programs that cater to the busy schedules of professionals.  Utilize this opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge you need to be competitive for growth.

2.  As a leader, one of the best ways to learn is to listen to those you lead.  Ask for your employees opinion, and actually listen to what they have to say.  People will follow those they respect, and they will respect you more if you treat them with respect.  This means valuing them.

3.  Subscribe to periodicals, magazines, or other services in your industry.  This is where you will find hot topics, studies, or cutting edge information that could give you the insight you need.

4.  Regularly evaluate your skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  If you know where your weaknesses are, you can fix them.  For example, if you are looking for a job or for a vertical or lateral move, and you know you have a deficit in specific software, learn how to use it.  There are textbooks, websites, and YouTube videos that can teach you everything you need to know.

5.  Set aside 30-60 minutes each day to read about your industry.  It is amazing the amount of information that can be ascertained from this minimal amount of reading each day.  It can keep you well-informed and ready to handle complications, grow as a leader and professional, and make necessary changes to keep up with technological advances.  It can set you apart from those who are left behind.  Knowledge is power.

Take these steps to be a lifelong learner and an incredible leader!

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Why I Chose a Women’s College!

The Lehigh Valley, where I live, is full of colleges and universities.  Each school has its unique culture, great programs, clubs and activities.  In the heart of Allentown is Cedar Crest College, a women’s college founded in 1867.  Its campus spans many acres and is listed as an arboretum.  Its historic buildings mix with the contemporary, just as the traditions of the college have remained steadfast while welcoming change.  Every day, I walk to work and classes, to meetings and activities, and I feel truly at home and welcome.  This leads me to why I chose a women’s college.

Cedar Crest welcomed me as a continuing education student, and I found the environment to encourage growth, leadership, and success.  There are opportunities around each corner, and I have taken as many as I could over the years.  The faculty and staff want students to not only pass, but to excel, and they support creativity, initiative, and innovation.  I have found my education to be hands-on and it has focused on how to apply information gained to real world experiences.  In addition, I have found my voice at Cedar Crest.  I am now more empowered than ever, and I am ready to make changes in the world.  Not only am I ready, but I also believe that I can because Cedar crest has inspired me and instilled within me a higher level of confidence.  I believe in myself and my abilities, and I believe in each student who graduates from Cedar Crest because they have been given the tools to succeed if they choose to use them.

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Cedar Crest College creates leaders.  This is a fact.  I am an example of what a women’s college can do in a modern world.  While Cedar Crest has a strong tradition, and so much history that is worthwhile to explore, it is the future that is so exciting.  Here I am about to graduate, and all I can think about is how much love I have for this incredible institution, and how can I be there as it evolves into the 21st century.  With exciting new programs in health care, a new MBA, and a strong new writing major, I am enamored with this dynamic path Carmen Twillie Ambar, Cedar Crest College’s esteemed president, is crafting.  She is continually meeting and exceeding challenges put forth by the needs of the college and community. This passion is catching, and I want to remain involved.  I can see myself becoming just as active as an alum as I am now, and working to help the college meet strategic goals.  I am more passionate about this unique world of higher education than I ever imagined I could be, and I hope to to use my skills in this way after graduation.

I look forward to walking across that stage in may and entering into a new chapter of my life as an alum of Cedar Crest College.  I also plan to give back because so many wonderful  donors to the college have helped to support my education. My last month of college is coming to a close, and I feel like this part of my life is one of the hardest to let go.  I have been truly affected by my experiences at Cedar Crest, and I am so incredibly thankful.  I know the new chapter will be exciting, and Cedar Crest will still be a major part of my life.  Perhaps I will even pursue my master’s degree there soon.  However, the undergraduate experience is a unique one, and it will be over for me in 5 short weeks.  The lifestyle I have known, the friendships created, and the overall experience will be gone physically, and only remain as memory.  I chose a women’s college because it was right for me.  It gave me more than I could have expected.  In fact, it changed my life forever.  I would choose Cedar Crest again, in a heartbeat.

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PLEN Seminar Experience Taught Me How To Better Advocate, Lead, and Pursue My Passions!

I have not posted a blog entry recently, but I have a good excuse.  I was attending the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) seminar, Unlocking Nonprofits: Innovations and Careers!  For anyone who is not familiar with PLEN, I highly recommend you check out their site.  http://plen.org/

Cedar Crest College regularly sends a handful of students to PLEN seminars, and I was lucky to be one of the ones chosen this year.  While I will be covering some of the information I feel I received from this truly enlightening seminar throughout the week, I want to offer an overview.  PLEN is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women as leaders.  They seek to connect women in top level roles throughout various areas of health, science, nonprofit, advocacy, government, and other agencies with high-achiever undergraduate and graduate students wishing to make their mark on the world.  PLEN provides multiple sessions with a panel of women, who not only detail their own experiences navigating their career path to reach their current positions, but who also inspire students to seek out their passion, to work hard, and to never give up.  This was one of the most inspirational experiences I have had.

These sessions were broken up by practical workshops to help students build better resumes, to enhance their LinkedIn profiles, and to gain necessary networking and interviewing skills.  Overall, I feel I walked away from this seminar with more than I could have expected.  From the pages of notes that are filled with detailed information from each speaker, to exceptional quotes, and a feeling of enhanced self-confidence, I believe PLEN went beyond the experiential, into something life-changing.

The seminar was off to a rocky start initially, because of the snowstorm that hit the east coast.  Below is a picture of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. where PLEN headquarters is located.

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That was just the beginning, but PLEN was able to continue the seminar despite a few speakers who were unable to make it.  We also had to miss a planned field trip, but they filled that time with an activity that was also rewarding, and gave us a chance to think about the use of social media marketing as a tool in nonprofits.

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Our keynote speaker, Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO of UNICEF was one of the most incredible women I have listened to.  She spoke about her own family, and how she made decisions about her career, that while unusual, were exactly what she needed to get to a place where she was satisfied.  One quote that really stuck out to me was, “Don’t be afraid of lateral moves today to get where you want to be tomorrow” (Stern).  While we tend to think of how we can move up the career ladder, sometimes we need to stay on the same tier while moving to a different career or organization.  We should in fact, follow our passions because that is what will make us feel complete at the end of the day.

Caryl Stern was just one of the many speakers who left me with great ideas, plans, and thoughts to mull over.  The women who dedicated their time, helped to make a change in the lives of the students who attended.  Based on the wonderful group of women who attended with me, I believe they will take this knowledge and use it to make a difference in the world.  This is one thing I can say I have take away from PLEN, every person who spoke fanned the flames of passion I have for advocacy, and this passion will lead me to initiate necessary social changes.  This goes to show that as I move into a career in advocacy and leadership, I can do the same for others, and if we all did this, our world would become a much better place.  This is just one of the many bits of information I took away from PLEN.

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I will carry this experience with me, and continually look back at what I learned so I can apply these lessons to my life as my path shifts.  I will also build upon the networks that were started and hope they lead to valuable connections.  And, I will continue to work towards my goals to make a difference in the world one step at a time.

Below is a picture of the great group of women who attended this seminar, it came from the PLEN Facebook page which I have linked below.

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Thank you Cedar Crest College for your support and for sending me to this seminar, and thank you PLEN for all of the hard work that went into planning.  I was also chosen to receive a PLEN scholarship, and for this, I am truly grateful!

Make Time to Read, and You will Be Better Suited to Lead!

Society continues to rapidly change and advance with current technologies, and this has a profound effect on leadership.  As we rely more and more on our devices, picking up snippets of information from various sources, we move further away from reading larger works.  There are many people who rely on daily doses of data in small forms, and never tackle a book on industry analysis, a fiction novel, a biography of a truly accomplished and inspiring individual, or other great works.  This may not seem so bad as the bits of information form wholes eventually, but there are effects that may not be realized until later.

Reading is crucial to a greater understanding of the world around us.  There is magic that happens as we pour over pages full of information, and not just in Harry Potter novels.  This magic is an evolving of ourselves.  An informational book allows us to see a specific area, like business, from another perspective, and to gain valuable insight to the industry in which we work or hope to work.  It helps to provide skills, vocabulary, and a deeper understanding of that particular world.

Biographies and memoirs allow us to see a life, in its entirety, through transformation.  It reminds us of the nature of humanity, and the challenges that erupt for everyone, despite status, race, religion, gender, etc…  It is a chance to see how someone overcomes adversity, and how they build a future on blood, sweat, and tears.  It is an experience in itself because we can connect, even if just through the words that fill each page, with another human being and their journey of existence.  This helps leaders to become more socially adept, and to realize the complexities that make up each life.  This may lead to higher levels of empathy, and compassion.

Fiction stories, the ones that may seem the least valuable to those in a world of business, logic, and facts, may in fact, be the most critical.  The story typically takes the reader on a journey which reaches a conflict or climax, and a resolution.  There are variances, and those novels that change the rules, but there is a need for leaders to get wrapped up in novels with complex conflicts because it requires analytical thought.  Readers naturally attempt to solve the problems, and while the resolution is given, the reader can find other alternatives, and learn to accept the endings they cannot change.  There is also something that must be said of the need for escapism.  As we surround ourselves with an endless stream of facts, news, and critical information, the chance to become a part of another world, involved with fictitious characters, and relax a little, is much needed.

Every leader should create a small amount of reading time each day.  Even if it is just 20 minutes, it is highly beneficial in so many ways.  This is one positive change you can make in your life that will provide you with skills that may be unattainable otherwise.  It leads to creative thinking, social skills, and perhaps the patience that is needed to commit to something longer than 140 characters.   Make time to read, and you will be better suited to lead!

Need Inspiration? Take a Class!

I have found myself losing inspiration at various points in my life, but over the past few years, the inspiration has been growing.  I can honestly attribute this to the classes I have been taking.  Continuing my education was one of the best choices I have made in my adult life.  Of course, having two special needs children at home made this decision a little more difficult, but with my incredible husband as my partner in crime, we have been able to accomplish great feats.  On nights I am in class, he handles the daily duties, dinner, and helps the kids with homework.  He also handles the job of referee as the children are bound to fight.  The point is, we made this work, and it has been an incredible journey.

I am now about to graduate with dual bachelor’s degrees, and I have found the various topics of the classes I have taken have provided me with a wide range of perspectives.  I am more open to topics I would have never considered before.  I can see the world in many ways, and I am truly inspired.  I do not struggle to find topics to write about because ideas pour from me everytime I sit down to write.  I can write in various genres and I enjoy writing more than ever.  I have also found that attending educational  and leadership conferences, or really any conference, can incite even more inspiration.  I always walk away from conferences and classes invigorated and ready to change the world with my words.  That may be an exaggeration, but I do believe words have great power, and I believe in my ability to affect change, even if it begins on a small scale, is possible.

If you are struggling with your creativity, if you need inspiration, take a class, go to a conference, and surround yourself with new perspectives.  Look at the world through the eyes of another.  You can even do this through good literature.  Open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the world beyond yourself and you will find there is more to consider, to question, and to write about than you could have imagined.

Why “Why Not” Became the Question to Change My Life!

It seems so simple to say those two words, “why not?”  I had never really considered the power behind these words until they were spoken to me in a new way, in the way that would change my life.  Everyone has an inspirational story, but it is the inspiration of others that helps us to grow and become more.

When I was in my early 20s, I was in a difficult point in my life.  I had left an abusive relationship, was getting divorced, and was a single mom.  I had to find my way out of the pit of depression brought on by years of abuse.  I had to find the strength to juggle work and caring for my child.  I had to learn how to go through the motions each day.  Yet, I knew I had so much potential that was burning inside of me.  It was there, just waiting for me to let it out.

One day, I was having lunch with my mother, and I was telling her about the Harry Potter series and how much it had inspired me.  I was always a bookworm, and I loved every genre.  From the fantasy worlds that gripped me with their magic, to the tragic tale of Les Miserables, I was devouring books as a child and teenager.  When I discovered Harry Potter, I escaped the monotonous life I was in and found my passion for stories again.  I told my mother how I wished I could take the stories I had in my head, and write a book like Rowling did.  Then, it happened.

She asked me “why not write a story?”

It took me a few moments to think about it, and I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason.  What was stopping me?  It was my disbelief in myself.  I never thought I could do it.  I did not believe I could possibly accomplish this feat of writing a novel.  So, I challenged myself to write a novel, and I did.  While the story is great, it needs work, and I realized I needed to go back to school, grow, learn, and pursue my passions.  Now, when I think I wish I could do something, I ask, “why not?”  This simple question has changed my life, and I hope it can inspire others to change theirs.

Thank you mom!!!

How to Know if you are on the Right Path!

Sometimes, we hit a point in our lives where we wonder if we are on the right path.  Perhaps you have been let go from your job, maybe you are stuck in a position that does not make you feel valued or challenged, or maybe you are just feeling like you are not happy.  If any of this is true for you, you are probably ready to make a change.  In fact, if you are not happy or working on something that makes you feel like you are being true to yourself, you should consider making a change.

Now, this does not mean that you should impulsively leave a job that you have found security in because it makes you unhappy.  This means you may need to re-evaluate where you are in your life and where you want to be.  Once you know who you are and what your goal is, you need to make decisions on how to get there.  With the challenges in the economy and job market, security is important, but you can keep your job while making changes, gaining education, negotiating with an employer, or seeking opportunities.

The main thing is that you find what you are passionate about and pursue it.  It may take more work on your part if you have to start a book, build a business, or go to school while still working, but the people who find success are those who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and put in a hard day of work.  You will know when you are on the right path because you will feel proud, confident, and happy!

Pursuing Your Potential!

Many people live in the past, spending a great deal of their time regretting decisions, and considering where they went wrong in life.  Others spend time in the present, working to achieve short-term goals and to pay the bills.  Then, there are those who live in the present without truly living.  They barely get by, and they do not work towards anything.  Finally, there are the few who see the long-term goals, the potential they have to achieve something great.  These people are the ones who have big ideas, who dream big, who think big, and have success written all over them.  This is a great place to be, but without the motivation and drive to actually pursue your potential, you will never get to those beautiful long-term goals that shine like stars on a lonely night.

Depending on the goals you have, you may have a great deal of work to do, and if you plan to be successful, you should plan to have a lot to do.  It takes hard work and dedication to reach a goal, and it must be something you believe in or have passion for or else you are more likely to give up.  Here are the three steps you should take to begin when pursuing your potential.

1.  Determine what potential you truly have.  In fact, go beyond determining and decide if this potential lends itself to a specific goal you have, and if you are truly passionate about this goal.

2.  Make a plan!  Figure out what your goal is, and make a plan to help you reach it.  This includes timelines.  You need to know when you will start, what steps you need to take, and what your goal date of completion is.  You should think of the challenges that may be faced, and how you can best deal with them.  You need to determine if you need contacts, if you need money, and any other important elements that will get you there.  Sometimes, this may mean education, or work experience.

3.  Push yourself to take the first step.  Make the calls, enroll in a degree or certificate program, determine the loan you may need, seek investors, network with other individuals who could be helpful, and be ready to sell yourself.  Sometimes, you will need to boost your social media presence to reach a goal, and this can be time consuming.  Prepare for the amount of time you will need to invest and stick with it.

It can be difficult, and only a small percentage of people truly pursue their potential.  However, the work put into it can be incredibly rewarding in the end!

Creative Expression and Innovation!

As business and education become more technologically based, and there is a high level of emphasis on statistics and analysis, it seems as though the room for creative expression has diminished.  School programs for music, theater, and the arts are harder to come by, especially in financially challenged school districts, and the youngest generation comprises of individuals that will suffer because of this.

I have always reveled in the arts.  With a profound love of reading and writing, I see joy in the act of creation.  As I am free to explore more of my creative side, I find my ideas and my ability to be innovative increases.  I can’t wave a magic want and change the direction society is moving in.  Perhaps, there will be great things born of this generation.  However, I think it is important to make people aware of this problem because we can all have an influence on the outcome.

Many of us are educators, parents, aunts, or uncles.  We all have, or will have, contact with the future generations, and we can instill a love for the arts in them.  We can introduce them to the limitless expression available with a canvas and paint on the lawn on a bright spring morning, and a run through the sprinklers afterward to wash off the paint.  We can show them the beauty of architecture by explaining some of the greatest works and the feats it took to create them.  We can take them to a symphony, let them hear rock, jazz, and every other genre of music.  We can fill their hearts with a passion that can only come from exposure to beautiful creations.  From museums to art studios, we can give children the exposure they need.

We can give them a love for books because there is nothing like holding a favorite book in your hands with pages worn from lovingly turning them many times.  Children need this creative expression, but so do we.  We need to be reminded of the feelings that come from awe inspiring work.  We can now appreciate them with an experienced eye, as well as through the wonder in the eyes of our children.  Our society will always need technology and analytics to grow, but true innovation is born from creative expression.  And creativity is fed by an open door of discovery into the world of arts.  The less limited we are, the more we can grow and formulate ideas that can grow into the next greatest thing.

So, when you see your child hovering over technology, serious and dedicated to the gaming, discussions, or social media, provide them with an experience you can both benefit from.  Open the door for them and show them the magic on the other side!

New Year’s Series: Resolution Planning Time

Now that we have completed the exercises over the past few days, you should have a list of your toughest lesson learned, the successes you have had over the past year, your past goals and dreams, and a SWOT table with your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  This is a lot of information, but it will help you to plan resolution like never before.  The reason it is hard to stick to resolutions is because we tend to come up with a general goal and give ourselves a year to complete it.  There is no real plan.

Your first task is to go through your lessons learned because if one of them is that you need to cut toxic relationships from your life before they drag you down, and you want to resolve to make a toxic relationship stronger this year, you need to remember what you have learned in the past.  After making your resolutions , you will revisit this list to make sure your previous lessons do not apply to any of your new resolutions.

Next, you need to look at your successes and study them.  Did you succeed a great deal in one aspect of your life like your career, but not in your personal life?  Perhaps you want to continue to build on these successes, or perhaps you want to balance things out and add resolutions that will focus on a different aspect of your life.  Think about what made you successful for everything on your list.  Perhaps you were passionate about these things, maybe you accomplished more in the first half of the year when you were thinking about your goals for the year, or at the end when you realized you had not accomplished what you wanted to yet.  This is important because it helps you to see how you think, plan, and work.

The next step is to look at past goals and dreams that were left behind.  Are any of these still relevant? Did you give up on them because you were not ready, you were scared, or perhaps it is a path you left behind and would rather leave it in the past.  We all change as we grow, and this includes goals and dreams.  This is where you should break out the highlighter and highlight any goal or dream you would like to rekindle.

Finally, go over your SWOT.  You should see what your strengths are.  Will these help you achieve your goals, and is there anything missing that you should try to develop?  With your weaknesses, it is important to know what they are and if you can try to change that aspect of yourself.  Opportunities to enhance your life, and make changes to yourself, to grow and learn, can lead to resolutions.  Finally, threats, what threats do you have to your success, and how can you work through them?  You should always be prepared for these threats and for the task to overcome them.

This in-depth look at yourself should have helped you to come up with some resolutions you may not have considered before.  Your last task is to make a list of everything you would like to accomplish in the next year.  For each item, you need to consider if a different resolution should come first, if it should be within a certain period of time, and if it should be during a specific time of year.  Each resolutions should have a date to start, and an expected date to finish.  You should try to spread your goals out and make sure this is something you incorporate into your schedule.  Most of us use a scheduler on our phone, online, or a planner.  You can add the dates for your resolutions to it, and even reminders.  If it is a big resolution, create steps to help you achieve it.  This should also be added to your planner.  A more detailed plan like this allows you to carry your goals through the year and gives you a timeline to work from.  Once you have your completed resolution plan, think about your lessons learned, make sure they still apply, and think about your strengths that will help you achieve your goals.

Now, you can begin the year right, with a plan that will help you to find success.  I wish you all the best of luck in this coming year.  2015 has the potential to be a magical year if you work hard!  I hope you will all update me as we near 2016, and let me know if this worked for you.  I would love to hear about successful resolutions!  Happy New Year!!!