As young professionals stand at the starting line of their careers, many searching for the experiences and opportunities that will lead them to success. Young people who belong to professional associations have a unique opportunity to become leaders by getting involved in volunteer groups. While seasoned association members may appear better suited to serve as volunteer leaders, young members who take the leap and step into these roles have the chance to grow their experience and skills while making important industry connections.
Leadership coach Tracy Spears, co-founder of The Exceptional Leaders Lab and co-author of the bestselling book What Exceptional Leaders Know, frequently provides her insight and advice about leadership through her blog. In “6 Things You Need to Know About Leadership," she explains that good leaders must continue to learn.
“Show me a leader who thinks he or she has nothing to learn, and I will show you someone who will be obsolete in a matter of a few years (if not already),” Spears writes. “The work-in-progress leader is an attractive leader who will gather skills, insights and followers very quickly.”
Recognizing this type of “work-in-progress” leadership opportunity, two young professionals recently stepped into volunteer leadership roles with the American Alliance of Orthopaedic Executives (AAOE), a professional management association for orthopaedic practice executives. They shared their reasons for getting involved and why other young people should seek similar opportunities.
Learning Through Leading
Alexander Sroka, manager, digital & web, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, currently serves as the chair of the AAOE Communications Council. When the chair position became available, Sroka, 25, recognized the value in learning from older, more experienced members. He also saw a chance to gain critical professional skills such as leadership, communication, and organization—the skills that “help you rise above the crowd.”
Sroka disputes the idea that being a leader means having all the answers. “I feel that being in this role, at least for this short amount of time and hopefully for a while, has really helped me grow,” he explains. “I’m constantly being challenged by the peers in the group to be a better leader and think in new ways.”
Another young AAOE leader shares similar reasons for getting involved. “Simply because I’m the chair, that’s not precluding the fact that I’m really there to learn, and learn as much as I can,” says Olivia Wolf, CPC, administrator, Alaska Hand Elbow Shoulder, who was recently appointed as the AAOE Data Analytics and Benchmarking Council Chair.
Both Sroka and Wolf plan to take what they learn from their volunteer groups and implement those ideas, strategies, and skills in their own practices. Rather than shying away from the opportunity because other council members may have more experience, they recognize a key opportunity to learn.
“I really value not only the respect and trust put in me by my peers on the council, but I also value the opportunity to learn from them,” Sroka says. “They’re all vastly more experienced and have been in situations that I haven’t encountered yet.”
Building Industry Connections
In addition to gaining valuable experience, young leaders also have the chance to make connections with other industry professionals.
“Being in a leadership role, and really just being a volunteer in some capacity, does open up doors for young professionals,” Sroka shares. “It’s refreshing. It’s a change of pace to hear new ideas, to meet new people, and to really expand your network of mentors.”
Sroka is not only a leader on the Communications Council, but also recently presented an AAOE webinar on online reputation management. By tackling the challenge of presenting to orthopaedic practice executives from different practices, specialties, and regions around the country, he formed important relationships with webinar attendees who reached out to him after the presentation to request examples and share their own experience on the subject.
“It helped foster relationships with some folks outside of my group,” he says. “The presentation not only allowed me to share what we’re doing with our group, but it also allowed me to get feedback from others, and I think that is a pretty invaluable experience.”
Cast Fears and Doubts Aside
While hesitation related to age and experience level can create roadblocks for young professionals considering leadership positions, Sroka and Wolf insist those worries are unwarranted.
Sroka encourages young people to get involved despite any reluctance they may have. Any potential risk is outweighed by the “invaluable experience” you will gain.
Part of that experience is stepping outside of your comfort zone, which can help you stand out from the crowd.
“I think that oftentimes there’s a vast difference between how you grow when you’re comfortable, and how you grow when you’re uncomfortable,” Sroka explains, “because I think the people who stand apart are those who can lead or grow when they aren’t in the most comfortable position.”
Of course, learning often means making mistakes. Sroka asserts an important part of being a leader is not avoiding mistakes, but growing from them. Instead of focusing on them as negative incidents, he views them as “moments of opportunity to learn and grow.”
Echoing the advice Spears’ provided in her blog post, Wolf reminds young professionals that learning is important at any stage of your career because “there’s always something to learn.”
For those worried about gaining respect from their peers, Wolf says to set those concerns aside. While she admits, “You need to be engaged and you need to know what you’re doing,” she adds that her more experienced peers have never made her feel “you’re disqualified from something because you’re newer. That’s not the qualifier. And nobody’s ever made it seem like that’s the qualifier.”