Danielle Mariano: Leadership Extends Beyond A Position

As we get closer to the 2019 Evolution Leadership Conference, it’s been my pleasure to share essays from our 2019 class of the 10 New Leaders Project.

Applicants were asked to complete an essay answering the question, “How would your participation in this program help you achieve purpose?” We recently shared essays from Julie Walker, Executive Director of the Peyton Walker Foundation; Lucas Salter, Account Leader at Wenger Feeds; and Ettel Feinberg who is the Manager of Employee Experience at U-GRO Learning Centres.

I’m happy to share another essay from a participant in the program this year. I hope you’ll enjoy this piece written by Danielle Mariano who is the Director of Bureau of Budget and Fiscal Management at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

My father was an incredible leader. Not just in his professional life, but also in his everyday interactions with people. He led by influence, rather than by authority. Colleagues both above him and below him on the organizational chart looked to him for guidance and inspiration. He helped them to see what was possible, and he gave them the confidence and the support to be the best versions of themselves. He was always willing to take a lunch with someone in a career crisis or a personal time of transition. He was constantly reviewing resumes, having counseling phone calls, and even giving a free class on interviewing at a placement agency. All the while working as the Vice President of Communications and Investor Relations at a Fortune 500 company. In these small but important ways he demonstrated that leadership extends far beyond a professional position. It is a mindset and it is a powerful tool. So powerful, that even though the connection may have been limited, many of the people he interacted with have told me that my father’s leadership had a tremendous impact on their lives.

I was lucky enough to have my Dad as a role model and a mentor for a large part of my life- he died of Lou Gherig’s disease in 2014. He taught me to be a person of ideas who consistently focuses on what is possible. He also showed me that the purpose of a leader is not to force people to follow you, but rather to make them want to follow you. I believe my purpose is to continue my father’s legacy by becoming a superior leader who helps people succeed. People are the key to every organization’s success, regardless of industry, discipline or profit-making stance. I believe that superior leadership is the key to making the people in those organization’s successful. Therefore, organizational achievement is dependent on quality leadership.

My participation in this program would help me to achieve my purpose in three specific ways. First, it would further my personal mission of improving operational leadership within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Like any organization, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a mix of effective and ineffective leaders. Yet, its political ecosystem makes some aspects of leadership uniquely challenging. For example, elected leaders tend to focus on complex societal challenges, while the hired leaders tend to focus on the transactional activities necessary to keep the organization running. As a result, there can be a disconnect between policy and implementation. Furthermore, the system is slow to change, people are often viewed as a liability rather than an asset, and decision making is inherently dispersed among multiple groups. Nevertheless, as the director of two different agency bureaus I have found ways to overcome at least some of these barriers. Through positive servant leadership approaches, I have been able to increase productivity, enhance customer satisfaction, increase staff morale, reduce staff turnover, and create change. I wish to build on what I have achieved and to take it to the next level. I want to learn inventive ways of addressing my leadership challenges and increase my effectiveness as a leader.

Second, this program would help to inform a new project I have begun. It seeks to offer leadership and soft skills training to economically insecure secondary students. Now more than ever, career success is dependent on employees’ ability to excel in areas such as teamwork, communication and conflict management. It is important that all students learn these skills so they can be ready to start their first jobs off on the right foot and so employers can find the staff they need to sustain and grow their organizations. Many underprivileged teens have limited access to this type of training. I want to use what I learn in this program to become even better informed about the critical elements of leadership and to leverage that knowledge to find ways to share it with these young people.

Thirdly, this program would help me to establish my career goals for the next five to ten years. I would like to explore opportunities to take what I’ve learned in the government sector and use it in consulting. I am particularly interested in creating a plan to develop my own consulting firm. My father and I had talked about opening a firm together. Although that is not possible now, I would still like to see our dream realized or at least explore what it would take to achieve it.

I hope that this essay has provided a clear outline of my purpose and how I think this program can help me achieve it. Leadership is a critical part of every workplace, and without it people and organizations cannot succeed. I hope to become skilled enough to make sure that they do.

Learn more about Danielle and all of our new leaders by clicking here.


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Rip Tilden
1 year ago

Thoughtful, touching and inspiring!