November / December 2019

Leading at All Levels of Your Career

LeAnna M. Pearson

I was recently meeting with one of the individuals I am lucky enough to call a mentor and friend. During our dinner, we talked about various topics from general life items to questions about work. One of the questions she asked that inspired me to write this article was, “If leaders are people with experience and wisdom, how can I be seen as a leader when I am just starting my career?”

I think this is a question that is asked often. I know I have asked myself this when starting new roles or at new companies. Many students and young professionals ask me this. There is no easy answer to this question, and there are lots of options, but any option will take you putting in the work and effort—this is the hard part for some to hear.

I recently read a book by Brené Brown called Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. One of the quotes from it that I now have at my desk is “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” This resonated with me from a career and professional growth perspective. I realized after speaking with my mentor that I have made both choices throughout my career. Each time I have raised my hand to lead a committee or be on a task team, I have been choosing courage. In most of these situations, I had some background in the role; however, in many cases, I was raising my hand because I didn’t have that experience and I wanted it, and sometimes this was terrifying. During those times when I felt like I jumped into the deep end, I utilized my mentors and colleagues to help guide me. I truly believe that the bravest thing we can do is reach out when we need help.

Take the Next Leadership Step

So, how can you lead at all levels in your career?

  • Volunteering in a professional organization is one of the biggest ways I was given a leadership opportunity before I ever became a leader within my organization. This does not mean that you have to run a committee or jump straight to the board of directors—just take on some micro-volunteering positions.
  • Read books on leadership (see the sidebar for some of my favorites).
  • Ask your company if they offer any leadership courses.
  • Reach out to a leader and ask them questions on how they have chosen courage over comfort.


What exactly is a micro-volunteering position?

It is an opportunity that allows you to lead a specific task or special event. This should take less time than leading a volunteer program or committee.

  • Look for a position that has a component that pushes you and displays your leadership skills.
  • Ask the chair or leader of a task group or team how you can help; trust me, they always need help!

Lead a Group

Leading a group can be done at the local or international level.

  • Before you decide to do this, make sure you understand the time commitment and expectations. (See my editorial in the March-April 2019 issue of Pharmaceutical Engineering® magazine on managing expectations to help you with this.)
  • Identify someone who previously had this role and ask them to be a mentor to you in the role, or just bounce ideas off them.
  • Set goals for yourself to achieve, and ask the team to hold you accountable to these goals.

During those times when I felt like I had jumped into the deep end, I utilized my mentors and colleagues to help guide me.

ISPE Volunteer Opportunities

There are several groups within ISPE looking for volunteers in both leadership and micro-volunteer roles.

Moving outside of your comfort zone can yield tremendous results in the long run. Take the first step and stay courageous.

Expand Your Leadership Library

  • Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown
  • StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
  • You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most by Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
  • True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  • Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong by Kristen Hadeed