Step Up and Lead

“See yourself as a leader now. Leadership is an action, not only a position.” —Cindy Pace

Cindy Pace, EdD is a remarkable woman. In her day job, she’s Associate Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion at MetLife, where she also leads the Global Women’s Initiative. She’s also an adjunct professor at Manhattan College where she teaches in the Masters program in organizational leadership. And she recently received her doctorate in learning and leadership, while working (more than) full-time.

Don’t Dance Around the Daisies. Step Up and Lead.

Pace would be the first to admit that she wasn’t always purposeful about placing herself in leadership roles. Early in her career, a defining moment changed all of that when she was thrust into a highly visible leadership role.

A colleague of Pace’s became ill in the middle of planning a global diversity conference. When the colleague needed to take time off, Pace was invited to step up and lead. “My boss came into my office for one of those ‘put on your big girl pants’ conversations and said, ‘Cindy, I need your help. I know that you’ve been contributing and influencing behind the scenes, but I need you to step up and lead this thing. Can you do it?’” Pace recounts.

In that moment, though she was feeling a bit terrified, Pace had the self-awareness to realize, Someone sees the leader in me. I should be seeing the leader in me,” she says.

Pace accepted the challenge and planned the conference, which attracted more than 200 attendees. Her success in the role and the experiences and exposure that came with it changed everything. “It was a turning point in my career, and a turning point in me seeing myself as a leader,” she reflects.

“It’s not that I was quiet,” she clarifies, “but it was not until this particular event that others got to see what I could do in front of the stage, and behind the scenes.” Prior to that push, says Pace, “I did not realize how much I was dancing around the daisies. I was not really stepping up to lead.”

Seed Your Career

In her doctoral research, Pace explored the career aspirations of diverse women as they progressed toward top corporate leadership roles, documenting the lessons they learned along the way.

Through interviews and focus groups with 16 women, Pace uncovered a key finding: Women learn to lead by direct experience with managing people, relationships, and challenging situations. And significantly, they benefited from these experiences within the first five to seven years of their careers. Through these early experiences, the participants built confidence, and embarked on initial trajectories that would ultimately lead to senior leadership roles.

So if you’re starting out your career, say “yes” when someone sees the leader in you, and offers you a chance to practice and develop new leadership skills.

“See yourself as a leader now,” suggests Pace. “Leadership is an action, not only a position. You can lead from where you are by deepening your expertise, playing to your strengths, and leveraging your ‘purpose drivers’─those things that are energizing you.” Don’t wait to break out of your comfort zone and take risks. “Raise your hand and proactively look for opportunities to lead or create those opportunities,” she says.

If you’re waiting for an invitation to lead, forget it. Learn to see the leader in yourself. As Pace says: “Don’t dance around the daisies.” Seed your career with early leadership experiences, and do it sooner, not later.

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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