Seeking Challenges for Leadership Growth

The beginning of a leadership journey

Like many other leaders, Maris Cortes-Nuesca’s time in school introduced the inner leadership self in her. As early as pre-school, she excelled in being a leader –  always the class president until high school when she shifted her focus to academics. Meanwhile in college, because of the high demand of her degree program, Political Science, she had less time for extracurricular activities. Despite the challenges in schedule, she managed to rise up again and take part in leadership roles after college.

The last years in her formal schooling was the time that her sleeping leadership self has, once more, unleashed through her internship in an NGO that pushes for civic education and leadership advocacy. In this experience, she was exposed to the possibilities of a future within development work.

When she eventually joined the workforce, she went on searching for where her heart truly belongs, then she found Kaya Natin, an NGO that focuses on promoting good governance and ethical leadership in the country.  Though the roles of her first position in the organization were unfamiliar to her, she took it as a challenge where she trained to excel in the responsibilities she was offered. The demands of her job enabled her to be dynamic in various activities. On the side, she had to take on other projects as part of support staff to other teams. The Youth Leadership Training was her first involvement in program management where she brought with her valuable skills and lessons in eventually managing her own program.

Because of her initial exposure to the programs by the organization, she then led her own programs. In her first two (2) years, she was exposed to several youth leadership projects and community engagements. Being a person consistently looking for challenges and growth, she went on to look for other experiences to expand her skills and network. Interested to take on more challenging roles, she asked to have a different scope of work which was the local government unit engagement. This has allowed her to discover actual leadership embodied by local officials she worked with. It was a new experience for her because it developed her communication, coordination, logistics, and interpersonal skills. 

After four years of working in the development sector, she again decided to explore a different field for growth. For a year and a half, she worked in a corporate setting as an executive assistant where she realized that it was a completely different world from the development sector. It became an opportunity for her to reflect on what she really wanted to do. Nonetheless, the experience proved that her passion is in the development sector.

When she eventually quit her corporate role, she was offered to be the Program Manager of KN. On the other hand, she realized that being a program manager and taking on several other responsibilities at the same time was difficult because all require a substantial amount of time. She has come to the realization she cannot serve two masters at a time; that to be an effective leader, one has to pick and prioritize on which to devote. This self-awareness enabled her to be a key player in the organization.

Merits and challenges of being a leader

In her leadership journey, there were two things that she has had to overcome: uncertainty and challenge. In her first position as Finance and Administrative Officer of the organization, she had no formal training on financial management but it did not stop her as she bravely took the challenge. Two years later in the program, she decided to take her leadership skills a step further. She carried on her leadership with challenges through the recognition of her own weaknesses as well. By recognizing her own limitations, she found that she could better serve the people. 

Because of the many things that KN has been working on since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the major challenges she had to deal with as a Program Manager is keeping her team motivated. She overcame this by assigning people to programs, projects, and activities they are interested in because she always believes that people will work well if they love what they’re doing. She wanted to make sure that her colleagues will thrive where they will be assigned to. 

Dealing with burnout and taking care of oneself

The recognition of one’s own limitations has made her reach this far in her leadership journey. When having burnouts, she expressed that knowing when and putting importance on her sanity breaks are two things that helped her, especially this pandemic. Additionally, burnouts tend to shift away from one’s goal to its original path. When this happens, she always looks back to her “why”s and for whom this leadership is offered. She also expressed that asking for a more challenging role will prevent stagnation. Finally, she added that establishing good relationships with people in your workplace would alleviate the pressure and make it easier for you to work because of the conducive and friendly environment.

The journey in the LMNP Fellowship Program. 

A lot of lessons can be derived from the Leadership and Management for Non-Profit Professionals. This allowed her to look back on her past leadership experiences and how to improve them for the future. A realization she had from the module was the importance of consultation in projects. As a leader, it is easy to decide on all aspects of the program but every stakeholder must be involved from the initial phase until the full implementation and evaluation.

The Program Management module from the course further helped her to ground herself from the foundations of handling projects. This has served as a vehicle for her to check even the basics because there are times that a leader would forget the little yet significant aspects.

A call to her fellow young leaders. 

Trusting and enjoying the process of the leadership journey brought Maris to where she is now. She calls on young leaders to see leadership, not as a race but as a journey with obstacles along the way. Like her, she took breaks and pauses in her high school and college years to discover herself. It is a journey, and not an overnight process, where one would cultivate leadership skills for a long time. It takes guts and bravery and it should start from within. She echoed the valuable reminder of Sec. Jesse Robredo of developing one’s character. Lastly, she reminds young leaders to not be afraid of being vulnerable and committing mistakes because it will provide self-awareness on how to better oneself in serving the people. 

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