What I Wish I Had Known About Leadership When I Received My Doctorate

The following are tips from the American Psychological Association Committee on Early Career Psychologists (CECP):

  1. It’s never too early. Start learning about APA and engaging with divisions and state associations as early as possible. There is always a place where your voice can be heard at any level.

  2. Reach out for support. If you are in academia, especially in a tenure-track research environment, engagement in any professional organization may not be fully supported.  However, there are many opportunities to connect your work to your leadership involvement in APA. It is important that you reach out to and gain the support of other tenure-track, early career members who are involved in APA.

  3. You are not alone. Expect that it will take time to learn about the APA governance structure and know that you are not the only one in learning mode.

  4. Prioritize and balance. Two critical skills are the ability to prioritize your work load and balance your life.

  5. Don’t give up. Start with small expectations and hang in there.

  6. You need more than one. Find multiple mentors both within APA, your division and your state association.

  7. It’s complicated. Learn as much as you can about the APA governance structure, find mentors, read the Bylaws and Association Rules and ask as many questions as possible.

  8. Network. Get to know and network with the representatives on the APA Council of Representatives (CoR) that represent your division and your state association.

  9. MVR (Most Valuable Resource). Staff liaisons are an important resource with a wealth of information and data and can help you and guide you in the right direction.

  10. Do you have the time? Member involvement is vital to the structure and function of APA. However, volunteering in the APA governance structure is a very big time commitment, so make sure that you have space in your personal and professional life for such an involvement.

  11. Relationships that endure. Working with APA governance not only can make a broad impact on the profession, it can benefit you personally by giving you opportunities to meet leaders across all fields of psychology and build meaningful personal and professional relationships that can have a positive impact on your career.

  12. Look outside the box. Seek out leaders in other professional fields and learn from them and use that knowledge to strengthen our profession.

  13. Take the obvious to heart and be proactive.

  14.  Listen to others. Although psychologists are trained to listen, the ability to really listen is a skill that can always be improved.

  15. It is not what you think. Legislators are more accessible and legislation is more moldable than appears to be the case. One visit to Capitol Hill or state offices will allow you to experience this schema-shattering perspective.

  16. Leadership is leadership. Use your APA leadership experience to help position yourself for leadership opportunities at your workplace.

  17. Have confidence. Your perspective as an early career psychologist is valuable, although different, but not less than that of your more experienced colleagues.

  18. Find a niche. Position yourself as an expert in a certain area (e.g. website design, video editing, public education, marketing, etc.) that can help maximize opportunities early in your career.

  19. Use a multi-prong approach. Broaden your perspective, have a three prong approach to building relationships: Other early career psychologists, more experienced professionals as well as students. This will help strengthen your leadership skills.

  20. Make the connections. Connect with leaders who have similar roles in their organizations to exchange ideas, brainstorm and problem solve.

  21. Know your limit. Don’t overcommit (no matter how tempting). There are long memories within the governance structure and it is far better to do a few things well than it is to do many things poorly.

  22. Try and try and try again. Perseverance is critical if you want to be a part of the governance structure. You may not get elected the first, second or third time. As such, use the emotion that follows to propel you to keep trying and network with other early career leaders; their personal stories will help to keep you encouraged.

  23. Be proactive. Early on, during your doctoral training, be proactive and ask many questions regarding leadership opportunities and how to put a plan of action in place to attain leadership goals. Cultivate and develop the necessary leadership skills and look for opportunities at your institution and at the local, state, national and international levels.

  24. Some things cannot be rushed. Be mindful that some leadership skills, like therapy skills, take time to develop. They must be nurtured over time and practice does help to make them perfect.

  25. Be organized. Develop a strong and adaptable system that will help keep you organized and allow you to carry out your responsibilities in an efficient manner.

  26. Never burn a bridge. You will never know when you will run to that person again or when you will need his/her help.

  27. Lead from where you are. Express your voice in your workplace and professional organizations and you will begin to discover what you have to offer as a leader.

  28. Think systemically. Learn how organizations work and what impact you can have on multiple levels of a system, whether your workplace, your community or your professional organization. Check online for books and resources on leadership that can be helpful in this regard.

  29. Getting started. If you are unsure and don’t know how to get involved, think of it as traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language: First read the travel guides (websites, newsletters, email lists, etc.); then immerse yourself (attend business meetings, social events and other activities where you connect with people in-the-know) and last, but not least, ask multiple people for directions (how to get involved) so that you find your own path.

  30. Gratitude. When you get involved in your professional organization, you may feel grateful for the opportunity but others in your group will be even more grateful for your time, expertise and hard work. Leadership in this realm is extremely rewarding.