Cohort Reflections

DAnna Michelle

Don’t Let Your Title Define Who You Are

Michelle D'Anna

Community Relations Officer, City of Camarillo

"Don't let your title define who you are."

Let that sink in for a minute. At first, this statement struck me as an odd way to begin a conversation with a room full of professionals who are embarking on a leadership journey. Are we not a diverse cohort of 36 people craving that next title in our journey--yearning to find out how we can be our best selves, and how we can best serve others using our inherent strengths and honed skills from years of experience and training?

 But, as I let these words fully sink in throughout the day, I realized the value of this simple and straightforward statement that defines the true essence of leadership. Thank you, Dr. Joe Mendoza, Director of the Special Populations Educational Support Department for the Ventura County Office of Education, for leading off Session 6 *Education Focus* with this powerful message. 

Many of us set out to achieve leadership perfection through academies, like VCLA, or other professional development certification programs that promise to teach you the tips and tricks for how to be an effective leader--how to delegate, how to prioritize, how to communicate, and how to inspire. The truth is that we all have that in us. The key is finding the right spark—the right combination of strengths and passions in a team of people in order to achieve great things.

Leadership is a team sport. This has been a recurring theme throughout our VCLA sessions, one that especially resonates with me after our Education Focus. "You need to acknowledge that you alone are not enough" explained Dr. Mendoza. He went on to explain that while you can get things started on your own, you simply cannot accomplish great things on your own. "It is not enough to emulate what another great leader has done, and therefore you succeed," he shared. "Rather, you must meet someone where they are and take the journey with them." Meeting people where they are takes a humble approach, rolling up your sleeves and connecting with others on a human level. Showing up, not as your title, but as yourself.

Sometimes we are hindered by fear--whether it be a fear to learn, a fear to understand, or a fear to grow. That fear is typically driven from a fear of failure. The truth is: we all fail. It is part of the journey. And therein lies the irony. If we define ourselves by our titles, then we lose the vulnerability that comes from being human and making connections with those with whom we can accomplish great things. We lose the vulnerability that allows us to fail. From failure, we grow--we rise up and try again until we get it right.

VCLA has opened my eyes, not only to the vastness of our County and the wide range of issues that present itself on any given day, but to how leadership is more than just a title or a learned skillset. Leadership takes humility and courage, strength and patience. Leadership is not found in a title, rather it is found within oneself. Great leaders are those who choose to define themselves by their strengths and who recognize their vulnerability. Great leaders are able to identify strengths in others and they have the courage to meet others where they are to inspire teamwork and accomplish great things.