Leaders worth following know their greatest influence and capabilities evolve as a result of consciously internalizing and applying a lifetime of experiences, both personal and professional. Some lessons arrive in the form of epiphany moments, out-of-the-blue realizations that render certain things crystal clear. Other lessons come about more slowly—through formal education or by learning to identify patterns and actions over time that begin to inform how best to guide and support others.
We have the honor of observing people at various career stages learn and grow in an array of settings. A particularly special group, the Soderquist Fellowship program, brings us new talented students each year who work with Milestone Leadership as project coordinators while pursuing their Master’s degrees at John Brown University. These bright individuals learn an enormous amount through applied academics and constant exposure to executives who are leading corporations and nonprofits at the highest levels. And the truth is, our seasoned professionals learn just as much from working with these students—and are inspired and invigorated by their enthusiasm, passion and idealism.
One of our Soderquist Fellows, Meaghan Ranz, successfully completed the program and earned her MBA in Organizational Behavior. She then stayed with Milestone for an additional year to work as a fulltime special projects coordinator. Meaghan is moving on to follow her passion for social work and to support efforts to help abused and neglected children, but pursuing new avenues does not lessen her love for what she has gained through her time with Milestone Leadership. We asked Meaghan to share a bit about what she has learned from supporting, observing and interacting with an array of leaders over the last few years.
Why did you initially decide to apply to become a Soderquist Fellow?
In 2016, I had just graduated with my undergraduate degree in family and human services (social work) and a minor in management. During my senior thesis and throughout college I was struck by how stretched thin nonprofit leaders and their organizations are. Many of the leaders we interviewed did not have enough time, resources, or training to strategically think about their organization or leadership. Several did not know if their organization was successful because data and feedback was not a luxury they had. This began my passion to understand the foundation of what makes a business and leader successful. I so desired to spend time gaining the education, skills, and training that would empower me when it was time to head back into the world of social services.
What did the experience teach you about yourself on a personal level?
I am a completely different person now than I was before I started the fellowship, in the best way possible. My experience in the fellowship was something like a pressure cooker. I was challenged, given incredible responsibility, and treated like a professional. At the same time, the ingredients to succeed were all there, and the support from my team and our partners was amazing. Even in the most challenging times, I knew people had my back. In the end, I am loving the person I became through the process! I trust quickly, pursue excellence, view my teammates like family, desire to improve, do not put as much pressure on myself to be perfect, and feel much more confident walking into a difficult and stretching next role. The fellowship program has formed me into someone who knows her limits and isn't afraid of healthy boundaries—but also someone who is ready to break down barriers (with help!) and seek the type of professional and personal life that is worth following.
What professional skills did you gain from your time as a Fellow and through Milestone Leadership?
This list goes on and on! I gained incredible professional experience including but not limited to: written and verbal communication, networking with a wide range of leaders across industry lines, confident humility, continuous feedback loop with supervisors and teammates, leading meetings, strategic direction and execution, time management, delegation, reflection. Truly, I could keep going! The fellowship provided me with a framework to view leadership and my role, professionally and personally, as so much more than simply showing up and completing tasks. It has been about asking the difficult questions and beginning my journey of becoming a leader worth following.
What would you encourage other 20-somethings to do which you believe could make the greatest impact on their professional futures?
Be vulnerable. Don't be afraid to not know all the answers: In the last year, about 80% of my job consisted of things I have never done before. I found that it is so important to first ask the question "What do I want this to look like once the problem is solved?" Then I bit the bullet and walked into the offices of many superiors and peers, as prepared as possible, but still saying something like, "I'm not even sure if I'm asking the right question or language around this...but here is how I understand it to the best of my ability. But you are the expert and I'm ready to learn so that we can tackle this problem together!" I was amazed at how much I learned, how quickly I grew, and the trusting relationships I built along the way with incredible people! I do not have the answers...not even a little bit! But I am creative and resourceful and not afraid to ask for help. We are better together!
Get to know yourself: Some of the most important moments in the past few years have not been working in professional environments...don't get me wrong, those have been great! But the best has been the lunches, coffee dates, counseling sessions, and meetings with people who help me reflect and get to know myself. Why do I do what I do? What informs my choices? How do I react when under stress? What do I value? These are the reflections that make real change. These questions help me know who I want to become and remind me that I'm not alone!
What will you miss most?
The people, absolutely! Our team shows up in trials and celebration, and they are some of the most supportive people I've ever met. I will be forever grateful for the role they've played in my life and professional journey. I'll especially miss having to make a nerf basketball shot before I leave the office...because it usually took at least 15 minutes. Ha!