Some argue that leadership is an innate quality and cannot be developed. I argue that this approach is limiting and does not inspire personal and professional growth. When asked about leadership styles, I think of facilitation. As a leader, I believe my role is to facilitate change. What may differ from others is on “how” this is accomplished. I like to share a vision and jointly move it to reality. I like to engage others in sharing their vision. I like to motivate others to be agents of change. This is how I see progress – a team working towards a shared vision with motivation, drive and positive energy (i.e., no complaining, just constructive commentary).

In order to be an effective leader, I know I must be honest, a good communicator, empathetic, confident, committed, passionate, creative and be able to delegate and share. Not all these qualities are easy-to-achieve. Communication and delegation are two areas I know I’ve worked on over time. I have learned much about being a good leader, thanks to working with and observing some great mentors. I have been able to partake in the details involved in going from Point A to Point B in a discussion or decision to be made. This has involved learning how to schedule and run an effective meeting, how to obtain the right information, how to motivate and engage during a discussion, and how to show individuals respect for their ideas and their work – and very importantly, how to generate an agreed-upon action plan.  

As a leader, I have always believed that I can only be as good as the team I work with. I share the spotlight with the team, because together we have worked towards a shared vision, a common outcome and successful product. 

How does one become a leader? 

I believe you first should ask yourself “Why?” What is your purpose in becoming a leader? Is there an end product or a process that engages your interest? Are there people working together that you feel would be a good fit with your skills? The “why” is very personal. I will share with you that my motivating factor in becoming a leader was never leadership itself; it’s always been the end product, even if I don’t know what that is. I often ask myself, “what can I do to make a difference? Can I do this differently? What here needs a fix?”

As a leader, I have always believed that I can only be as good as the team I work with. I share the spotlight with the team, because together we have worked towards a shared vision, a common outcome and successful product. 

I am not one to complain about a broken process, I simply note that the “person in charge” (not always a leader) is not achieving the results anticipated and so a possible shift in leadership style and vision may be necessary. I believe everything can be fixed, it just takes good communication and understanding of a process. Of course, to problem-solve you need willing partners, and that is not always available. 

Everyone has followed different pathways to become a leader. Sometimes it’s simply raising your hand and volunteering for a task. Other times it’s being noticed by someone and being asked to join a committee. And sometimes it’s starting a group focused on similar goals. Different people, different pathways… In the end, developing your style and approach to leadership takes time and interest. With every new leadership role I assume, I learn something new. There is always an opportunity to make a difference, to learn and to share. 

If you want to be “involved” you should select an area of interest and seek opportunities to contribute. That should start your path… It’s not about waking up one day and saying to yourself, “I want to be a leader…” It’s about waking up one day and saying, “I want to help make a difference.” This is my totally biased approach to becoming a leader. 

So, you’ve decided you still would like to be a leader. Do you have a mentor or a role model? This can be one or several people you admire, or those whose style you like. Learn and absorb, and in small ways, start making this style your own. Don’t move to imitate, move to incorporate.  

Why do this? 

You need your personal motivation factor(s). Decide what those are and stick to them. Leadership is not always attractive. It takes time and focus to move forward – hours of reading documents, hours of talking, hours of meetings, hours of preparation… but ultimately, if your goal is to work towards a shared vision, you can achieve it. 

What have I learned? 

Oh my… Over the years I’ve learned that there is good in everyone… and that regardless of the reason for assuming leadership roles, people often have one goal in mind. My job has often been figuring out what that goal is and see if it is in synchrony with the team’s shared vision. I’ve also learned that while it’s alright for me to enter a discussion with a set result in mind, I must be open to change or re-shaping, as I may learn a few things along the way in the discussion… 

What I’ve also learned is that we all admire a good leader, and effective leader, an inspired leader. That should be our focus – to become the leader we admire… and make a difference in any way we can. 

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Dr. Riquelme is currently an Associate Professor, New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY; Director, Center for Swallowing and Speech-Language Pathology, New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY; and Director, Barrique Speech-Language Pathology, PC. He completed his M.S. at Columbia University and his Ph.D. at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Luis has authored articles on dysphagia, multiculturalism, cultural competence, leadership and quality improvement. He has presented locally and nationally and internationally. He has been on several local and national boards and committees. Chair of the New York State Board for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Co-Chair of the National Aphasia Association’s Multicultural Task Force. He is Past Chair of the ASHA Multicultural Issues Board, Immediate Past Chair of the ASHA PAC Board and Past President of the New York State Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In 1992, he co-founded the Hispanic Caucus for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. His passions include: the American Board on Swallowing & Swallowing Disorders and the National Foundation for Swallowing Disorders. Luis became an ASHA Fellow in 2009 and in 2006 he received ASHA’s Certificate of Recognition for Special Contributions in Multicultural Affairs. In 2001 he received NYSSLHA’s Distinguished Service Award and in 2017 NYSSLHA’s Distinguished Achievement Award.