How to Lead From the Bottom Up
Working in a smaller non-for-profit organization is both rewarding and challenging – often for the same reason. As an entry-level staff member, you are not a leader in the same sense that a Manager/Associate Director/Director is, since you do not have a direct team that reports to you. Still, you are required to take on and exhibit certain qualities that would befit a leader. This occurs for several reasons.
In my experience, entry-level staff have the unique position of being on the ground, so to speak, and need to implement larger organizational initiatives or changes that seek to improve the efficiency of the organization’s processes. If there are issues in these processes, they are often the first to discover them. As representatives of the organization to any external partners, they have to answer questions in a way that reflects the organization’s priorities and communicate member concerns up to management.
Additionally, entry-level staff, especially in smaller, 30-person organizations, work across teams and have a broad knowledge of all staff in terms of roles and responsibilities and processes used across the organization. Entry-level staff are also encouraged to ‘take the initiative’ and provide feedback and creative ideas to all levels of leadership, as well as communicate their interests and to gain professional development opportunities.
When you are the most junior staff member in the room, it can be challenging to take the lead and share your ideas and innovative solutions. However, there are ways to make this easier.
- Entry-level staff can take leadership into their own hands by drawing on resources around them and making the most out of being the link between teams. These resources include subject matter experts and staff and processes used by other units. At one organization, my position spanned multiple teams, which handled slightly different types of events. Each used different timelines and systems to keep track of tasks. This gave me exposure to various event processes and project management software, which I was able to recommend when another group sought to improve the clarity of roles and responsibilities and the handoff between staff members for logistics tasks. I was also able to more closely standardize the event tasks list between events and archive those changes in our program management software. Entry-level positions often span multiple teams and knowing how to use these connections can allow you to take leadership when issues arise.
- By being the support for various teams, you know who will be affected when and if changes are occurring in processes or systems within the organization – and if those changes will affect more than just the group that is initiating them. Using this knowledge to request that specific individuals are invited to attend certain meetings can reduce confusion and ensure that everyone is informed when change happens.
- Entry-level positions often have the unique experience of being exposed to various leadership styles. You may only interact with other “leaders” in your team on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis; however, working with them helps you to compare leadership styles and behaviors across the organization. I once worked with an organization where one of the teams had a very talented manager who understood the importance of using program management software to assign tasks and encourage accountability without creating an environment where everyone was micromanaged and required to copy everyone on emails. The team could always see the tasks that needed to be tackled and those that were completed. I have tried to replicate this in other positions because it empowered me to take ownership and accountability for my work. If you admire a particular individual for addressing and responding to issues, or even a communication style, you can use that information to offer suggestions to your current team, therefore showing initiative and investment in your team.
While I do not have a title that immediately makes someone think of leadership, I have been put in positions that challenged me to become a leader for the benefit of my team and those that I worked with. It has not been easy, but as I have navigated through challenging situations, I have found ways to make it easier. I hope that the lessons inspire others in entry-level positions toward leadership and to share their ideas and insights. We all add value to an organization, although the key is finding where we can take the initiative to share our skills and experience as young leaders!
Josephina started at Humentum in May of 2019 as the Events & Registration Assistant. In her role, she assists the Registration team in maintaining relationships with members and answering enquiries on all of Humentum’s face-to-face, eworkshops, and Flex workshops. On the events side, she organizes all of the logistics for face to face workshops in the DC office; US and South America in-house trainings; IFR4NPO events; and all member convening events.
Josephina is skilled in event planning and programming, grants management, and cultivating relationships with donors and external stakeholders. She has utilized these skills in helping nonprofits in the field of peacebuilding, international development, and education in the United States and abroad in expanding support for their programs and ensuring their success.