THURSDAY THOUGHTS: Growing Season – Identifying and Nurturing Your Leadership Gifts

Spring is in the air, literally. As I sit writing from the comforts of indoors, swirling yellow clouds of pollen envelop and cover every outdoor surface. For a few weeks each year, we endure what appears to be a never-ending coating of vibrant dust until, seemingly overnight, we have leafing trees, flowering azaleas, and newly green lawns. While the pollen gets our attention, the growing season is already underway. When days get longer and temperatures rise over time, nature triggers budding new growth that will thrive.

When experts define your personal leadership brand, there is no accompanying manual since this is unique to each of us. However, we can cultivate and nurture our leadership skills by taking a cue from nature. Like the formula of more extended daylight and warming temperatures, there is a formula for identifying and developing your authentic leadership gifts. This formula starts with self-reflection, a process that allows you to understand your unique strengths and how they can be leveraged in a leadership role.

At the start of a career, it is about learning and growth to achieve expertise in a primary job function or role: formal training, mentorship, frequent guidance, and performance feedback support junior career professionals. I followed a predictable and established path in my growth as an Association Executive. My career in nonprofit management began at the front desk of my first association. I moved rapidly through roles of increasing responsibility after learning and mastering roles in education, meetings and trade shows, governance, public affairs, finance, and operations.

Like many, my success was rewarded with progression into management and, later, leadership positions that led to chief executive roles. As my titles and responsibilities grew in scope, the traditional learning plans dropped away. Growth into these roles involved a more reflective and internal growth pattern for the new skills I needed to succeed. To assemble and lead a high-performing team, I focused on cultivating my strengths and then hired others with their strengths in complementary skills.

People gravitate to the natural gifts of others, even if we cannot readily see them for ourselves. If you are still trying to discover your innate strengths and define your leadership brand, I recommend asking yourself these questions. First, pay attention to what others ask of you. Is it technical advice on mastering a new task, navigating a difficult customer relationship, or mentoring staff to achieve the next steps in their career?

What do you find incredibly joyful or pleasant in your workday? It may be writing a detailed communication to clients, training a team member on a new procedure or software, or preparing financial or technical reports. These are the activities that you do well and enjoy, which build confidence in your capabilities. This step requires an honest self-assessment and a dose of humility. As I built my skills and experiences, I was not a true master of everything, and if I wanted the best overall team possible, I needed to know when to bring in others who were stronger at a specific task or skill than me.

Once I embraced this concept, I could nurture my authentic leadership gifts and create more meaningful growth opportunities for the staff teams I led. I now focus on connections, leveraging relationships to build capacity and extend the impact of the organizations I lead. This is an externally focused role and leaves the internal and more operational tasks to other key members of the staff team. The impact was immediate once I embraced my natural gifts and sought opportunities to use my knack for meeting people and connecting with others. I felt a sense of empowerment and confidence in my abilities.

For example, a coffee meeting of introduction with another nonprofit leader of a local home improvement program blossomed into a $150,000 annual fundraising campaign in less than four years. The campaign was launched that day over coffee when the leader shared with me that of their organization’s 400+ person waiting list for emergency home repairs, 50% of seniors were in danger of losing their independence and their single largest personal asset. As we discussed this critical need, we identified how my organization and another could make a small but immediate impact to help these homeowners. The resulting program became the hallmark charitable activity of the organization that I led at the time, and it formed the centerpiece of the annual giving campaign of the home improvement program.

The success in this connection inspired me to continue a path of growth that paved the way for partnerships that resulted in a revitalized home ownership down payment assistance program and the new construction of energy-efficient homes in a community land trust that was reserved for teachers, firefighters, police officers, and healthcare professionals to live and work in the communities they serve. Taking this path has made all the difference in my personal and professional growth. I encourage you to identify and nurture your authentic leadership gifts, which can lead to fulfilling and impactful outcomes.


Anne Gardner is the principal and owner of LGO Solutions, where she partners with nonprofit leaders to increase stakeholder engagement and improve strategic alignment for their organizations. Her background includes 25 years of experience in executive and senior leadership roles with trade associations, professional societies, and medical subspecialty organizations, ranging from 1,200 to 24,000 members. Anne is deeply committed to promoting community well-being and social equity. She advocates for expanding workforce housing, preserving the existing housing stock, and supporting seniors’ independence through accessible home modifications.