Posted on: September 7th, 2017 by Jen Mueller

Remember being a kid and knowing what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Perhaps you wanted to be a teacher like me, or maybe it was doctor, actress or architect. Whatever it was, I doubt you gave much thought on how to actually get that job. You simply decided what you wanted to do, and that was that.

If only it was that easy as an adult. So often we develop our skillsets and put together a killer resume, but don’t have a concrete plan for making the jump into a larger leadership role.

Here’s the thing, sometimes you don’t need a concrete, step-by-step plan. According to Women’s Leadership Breakfast panelists Jen Cohen and Shaney Fink, sometimes what you need is a willingness to fill a gap and a curiosity to find out what’s around the corner.

“It’s like when I go hiking, it’s really hard to turn around.” Fink says. ‘It’s like, ‘Oh, what’s up there just around the corner?’’

That curiosity led to various roles at the University of San Diego after starting her career at USD as a volleyball coach. Working with student athletes inspired her to earn a Master’s degree in counseling, which resulted new opportunities in the athletic department and eventually led to job at Seattle University as their Athletic Director – all because she wanted to see what came next.

“Before too long I had a lot of support and people nudging me.” Fink said. “I don’t know if I would have thought to do it on my own. I always thought, ‘I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, but I don’t want to be told I can’t do it.’ I just kind of took whatever opportunities came and said, ‘Sure, yeah. I’ll try that.’”

Jen Cohen’s path to becoming the Director of Athletics for the University of Washington included a willingness to do more than her job description entailed.

“What I learned pretty young in this business is that if you can get the work you have assigned to you done really well, there’s more work to be done in these jobs than there’s ever enough resource.” Cohen explained. “I would look for where the gaps were… and then I’d try to fill the hole.”

You can’t ‘stay in your lane’ and expect your leadership abilities to become obvious to everyone else. It’s tiring (sometimes exhausting) to go the extra mile and to fill gaps, but there’s a huge payoff.

“It creates value and you become hard to replace,” Cohen says. “You also grow and develop that way. I knew where some of my weak spots were from an experience standpoint, and I’d jump at any opportunity I could to take advantage of those.”

Leadership opportunities don’t always follow a plan. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and develop your skillset. Be curious about ways to utilize your talents.

When you do that it’s fun to think about what’s just around the corner in your career.

The Women’s Leadership Breakfast is just around the corner, October 26th in Seattle. Make sure you register and reserve your seat to hear Jen and Shaney in person. You won’t want to miss their panel discussion or our special guest – Big Sky Commissioner Andrea Williams. She’s going to help kick off the breakfast, share personal insights on leadership, as well as, her experience as a two-sport athlete in college. You’ll learn more about Andrea in the coming weeks. Until next time – share this with a friend or colleague who would enjoy a morning of inspiration and networking.