By Kirsten DiNicola, YNPN Board Secretary

How does one become a leader?  How does one know if they are a leader?  Can you learn to be a leader or is this something your born with?  I found myself asking these questions at one point in my career.  Let me clarify, I am not asking how does one get to a place where they are the boss, rather someone who creates a relationship with the people around them through inspiration and encouragement.  How does someone become a leader that inspires, supports and shows others what they have within them so that others can feel fulfilled in what they do? 

Over the past couple of years of my career in the human service field, I realized I wanted to impact differently than I had been.  Rather than the direct work with clientele I had been doing for years, I began training professionals in my organization.  Working within the human service field is important and I value making sure that those who are going to sustain it are skilled, knowledgeable and feel confident and good in what they do.  While I realized I was chosen for this position, I remember questioning, would I be good at it?  Would I be a leader others needed?  It was what I had wanted and believed in and now I had to be responsible with it.  But how do I become a leader?  The truth was I didn’t know where to begin to hone in new skills. At that time, I didn’t have anyone in my network I could ask to be a mentor and my organization didn’t offer professional development opportunities. Most of the training’s or conferences I found within my profession were focused on how to do the job well.  Having greater skill and ability in what you already do, does not a leader make!  I wanted to learn leadership skills!  I felt a bit alone and I was thirsty for knowledge.  I spent some time wasted and waiting for advice from people that never really came.  Here I was saying “I am ready, someone teach me”,  but no one did and I felt a little frustrated. 

In my head, I filed through professionals I worked with, filtering out the qualities I saw in them that were leadership worthy and some things I needed to make sure I didn’t repeat!  I decided to take charge like a leader would and look for resources outside of what was going on at work.  I realized shortly, this was a quest that every leader embarked on:  finding resources that support you to support others, encourage and help inspire them.

All of this was happening around the time I had just started listening to podcasts, I was a late bloomer in that realm!  I had stumbled across a podcast about leadership and so I began listening.  I felt as if these professionals speaking into a microphone, recording a talk, knew exactly what I was looking for! My previous thoughts were confirmed, no one was going to sit me down and tell me how it was done and just modeling myself after someone else wouldn’t help me be complete.  Leadership is an art.  There are different kinds of leadership and different situations that call for different types of leaders.  I had to learn on my own through courage and practice to see just what type of leader I could be.  The podcast introduced me to more podcasts, books and webinars.  There is no one size fits all and no one instruction on how to be a good leader.  I began to practice the lessons I had learned through my listening and reading.  I began to handle conflict differently, understand and work within the dynamics of teamwork and succeed at managing up!  The practice of a leader was ongoing.  I would succeed, then I would stumble, I would pick myself back up, try some more succeeding and stumble again.  Succeeding and stumbling, succeeding and stumbling, the cycle continued (are you catching on to that part).  Eventually, my stumbles became a bit more graceful!  

While I once stopped to question how I would know if I was a leader, I haven’t really stopped to question it since, though I am always still practicing. What has become more important to me is that the professionals that I work with feel supported, encouraged and inspired to work in a field that is so important.  

When I began this quest for knowledge, I had received advice along the way: to always say yes to every opportunity that crossed my path, I would be able to learn so much more, so I did.  I began to involve myself in opportunities around volunteer work, strategic planning, fundraising and supported events for the public.  It was all practice and doing!  About a year ago I was introduced to the Young Nonprofit Professional Network and an opportunity to sit on the board of directors. I took it.  I was nervous, but I knew that if I was going to be the leader I wanted to be, I would have to take a chance.  I am glad I did.

I am always practicing and searching for new skills to acquire in my leadership, great leaders are.  Leaders don’t ever “arrive”, they are always seeking new knowledge, challenging themselves and learning from others.  We would love to hear about your leadership journey. If you are just beginning your career or you have lead others for a while now, perhaps you have a struggle you have overcome or success that you know would inspire others, YNPN calls you to action to lead through sharing in our Newsletter!

If you are interested, here are a couple of recommendations to get you started on a leadership journey:

Book: Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek

Podcast: Coaching for Leaders,

We want to hear about practices, experiences and tips that have helped you to become a good leader.  Maybe you have a book to recommend, or you are a podcast geek like me and have a great recommendation.  Whatever the case, we want to hear from you so we can highlight it and share the support with all YNPN members.  Take a chance and be a leader for your peers, share your experience in the next YNPN Newsletter.  Email us at with the subject line: Newsletter.