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Professional & Amateur gap


Developing our leadership is a lifelong pursuit. It takes constant learning about ourselves and awareness of the influence we have.

If you're like me, you enjoy reading, watching, listening to something on leadership most days. It's a good habit for continued growth as we get diverse perspectives from everything we digest. One of the things we can do to help integrate new learnings into our lives is to take notes on what is important to us from these books, videos, articles and podcasts we spend time with. Of course, writing things down helps them stick. What you do with those notes is the important part!

Confession notes were all over the place on sticky notes, digital notepads, word documents, yellow pads, etc. They weren't doing me much good. My interpretation of all this study wasn't being integrated into my life. Decided to do something about it and put all my notes into one word document. It was long, almost 100 pages! Scanning this long document reinforced some of my learnings and was really energizing.

But (you knew it was coming) it was too much to wrap my head around. What did all this stuff mean? Putting my patience hat on, I went through it again and found some keywords kept showing up. These were words from others I had captured that were important to me. The stuff that aligned with my own leadership journey. Bingo! Now I was onto something!

Here's the exercise for you to try with your own notes. In your notes document, do a "Command, F" on iMac or "Control, F" search on a PC for keywords that align with what's most important to you (start with your core values). What do the notes you're taking reveal about the journey you want to be on? Here's how many times these important words came up in my notes...

  • Empathy/Care - 36
  • Leadership/Influence - 94
  • Go First/Example - 70
  • Values/Beliefs - 19
  • Why/Purpose - 44
  • Others/Team/We - 510
  • Learn/Teach/Coach - 104
  • Culture/Environment - 47
  • Focus/Performance - 55
  • Listen/Help - 92
  • Self - 123

After considering the search results, here's what they each meant to me.

  • Empathy is the glue that holds our relationships and societies together. Caring is courageous.
  • Leadership at its most basic is influence. We're all leading in our own way with our contributions. They are either positive or negative for the effort we're involved with.
  • Leaders have courage to go first, to show the way with their example.
  • Our core values & beliefs drive our behaviors.
  • If we don't know our "why" or purpose then we are likely to fall for anything and get off track.
  • Leaders are concerned about others, the team. They say "we" and mean it.
  • Leaders are always learning, helping more and judging less. You don't have to be better than someone to coach them, you just have to care a whole lot about their success.
  • The culture, the environment isn't in others it's on all of us. We are all responsible.
  • Leaders help everyone play to their strengths as they know collaboration is a must. We can all learn to be effective with our gifts, talents, passions and curiosities.
  • Listen and silent use the same letters. Active listening is helpful for everyone as we strive for clarity in all communication.
  • Leadership is realizing it's not about you and it's all about you. Strive to be a professional at who you want to become.

Now, ask...

How am I stepping into these every day?

What structure is needed to help integrate these into my daily life?

"We are professionals at what we do, amateurs at who we want to become. We need to erase this devious distinction or at least close the gap between professional and amateur to become the person we want to be."
-Marshall Goldsmith

This year, keep learning and start a new document with all your notes in it. As you periodically take time to reflect, this little exercise can help you understand what all that study actually means for your journey so you can step into the person you really want to be!

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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