Leadership coach and Austin Business Journal’s 2018 Profiles in Power Rising Star Rachel Brownlow Lund discusses how being a board member has impacted her career path, and how young people and job seekers can learn to be leaders at any point in their career.
Prior to becoming a leadership coach, Rachel Brownlow Lund founded a ghostwriting company and lead three publications.
“I didn't set off wanting to become a leadership coach,” Brownlow Lund says. “[But] I noticed that…friends were asking for my advice on building their businesses, positioning themselves as leaders, and even finding the right board to sit on. As I realized that the advice I was giving was paying off for people in big ways, I started to explore the idea of monetizing my services.” This lead to Brownlow Lund to launch her latest venture, Me2Lead.
"Me2Lead focuses on leadership and empowerment coaching for millennial women. I help clients clarify their direction and goals, strategize their game plan, leverage opportunities, and build the skills necessary to grow their income and influence as leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers.”
Becoming a board member
Brownlow Lund has been an active member of the Austin-area nonprofit scene for years. In her early 20s, she was introduced to board membership as an at-large board member—one without specific responsibilities—for the Wrapped in Love Foundation.
“It was a dream of mine to go through Leadership Austin [a leadership development program] and I’d heard that most people … selected had previous board experience. I only knew a couple people who were even on boards, so I asked them if they knew of any open positions, and it turned out that … Wrapped in Love was looking for new board members!”
That first experience taught Brownlow Lund what it takes to make a board work, and the importance of systems for organizing roles and responsibilities. “One of the most valuable lessons I learned during that time was [that] … people mean well but get busy with other things and a built-in structure helps to keep everyone focused.”
Though her tenure on the Wrapped in Love board is her longest, Brownlow Lund was most active with the Young Women’s Alliance (YWA), a board she only recently stepped away from.
“YWA was looking to fill new chair roles right as I was becoming a member. I've always been a joiner, so I immediately applied to sit on the events committee. The next year, I joined the board as Programs VP, and the following year, I took the helm as Senior Vice President of the Foundation.”
Brownlow Lund's experience also showed her that board membership isn’t without its challenges. She notes, “People attracted to this type of volunteer leadership role are generally ambitious, big-hearted women who want to make a difference and are probably already volunteering on several other boards. As a result, you end up with a … board of high achievers who are probably already spread too thin.”
Pro Tip: If you're already dealing with this challenge, push yourself to be more discerning regarding which commitments should take priority and to consider which parts of your work are the most impactful.
Taking a seat at the table
"Board leadership is a great way to build meaningful connections with other successful, well-connected people,” Brownlow Lund states. “The people I've met through boards I've served on have been friends, allies, and some of my fiercest supporters, introducing me to key players and keeping me in mind for speaking engagements and other opportunities.
“Depending on your current network, financial standing, and level of influence, someone who’s starting out may not be suitable for certain board positions. But if you … still want to help, I recommend checking to see if [an] organization has a committee you can join. I've done this with a couple organizations I believe in, and it's a great way to meet people, develop skills, and help … at a level that's meaningful—yet doable—for you.”
As Brownlow Lund sees it, the biggest misconception millennials have about leadership is a consequence of the 2008 recession, when academia felt like the safest option.
“I saw many millennials go back to school for their graduate degrees. There was this sense of, ‘Well, I won’t be able to find the perfect job now, so I’ll just wait it out while I do something to increase my value.’”
Instead of using school as a safe house if the economy isn’t in your favor, Brownlow Lund recommends exposing yourself to books, programs, mentorship, and the appropriate coaching to help you start building the skills and experience you need to pursue your goal.
And no matter where in your career you currently find yourself, Brownlow Lund believes it’s important to remember you’re not alone.
“Just taking [the] initiative will go such a long way. When possible, bust out that positive, can-do attitude. People will take notice. Offer to do things before they're asked of you, and if you don't know how to do them yet, [think of it as] another learning experience! Do what you can to make other people look good, not just people in senior positions, but everyone. People will take notice, and you never know who [may] have the power to help you or put in a good word for you down the road.”
Designing your career path
Brownlow Lund has opted to take an entrepreneurial path, which often has her evaluating opportunities through a creative and strategic lens. But each decision she has made has helped her as an entrepreneur and a nonprofit leader.
Here is some parting advice from Brownlow Lund for anyone who chooses a less traditional path:
“Take some time to think about your career, in all of its twists and turns, as a story. On the surface, your story may seem disjointed, but I promise if you dig deep enough, it’s all connected. Start tugging on the common thread of a story. What lit you up? What do you absolutely never want to do again? Then repackage your story into something that makes sense. You don’t have to connect all the dots—just the ones that make sense.”
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.