THE BLOG
07/31/2015 04:29 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

Leadership Lessons I Learned This Summer

I turned my participation at the National Speakers Association convention into a hybrid getaway this summer. NSA was a transformative learning experience to help me grow my business and a wonderful way to enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of Washington, DC.

I knew I would glean great info about how to grow as a global public speaker and to further hone my brand and public awareness at NSA. What I did not expect was the extraordinary leadership wisdom that flowed from the variety of speakers who took the platform.

NSA never disappoints and this wisdom is too powerful not to share. Enjoy these impactful leadership lessons and incorporate them into your life. A special shout out to: Verne Harnish, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Neen James, "Chef Jeff" Henderson, and Linda Hollander for their respective wisdom.

Read More: Great leaders are always questing for knowledge and the best way to do this is to read voraciously. From Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington -- these iconic leaders have multiple books on their nightstands at all times.

If you barely have enough time to sleep, let alone read, I have a solution. When I narrated my new book: "This Is Not The Career I Ordered" for audio it changed the way I think about reading. I am now enjoying audio books while I drive and workout so I can capitalize on feeding my brain with new information on even the busiest of days.

Don't be surprised if during a new job interview they ask what book(s) you are currently reading. This is not just small talk but a direct way to ascertain if you are feeding your leadership brain with compelling content. I just finished Marshall Goldsmith's "Triggers" via audio book and now I'm diving into "Scaling Up" by Verne Harnish. What are you reading?

Write Thank You Notes: I recently received a gracious note from a colleague whose son just turned a year old. She thanked me for the influence I had in her life and career during the past 12 months and her note made my heart sing!

The hand-written thank you note is a dying art. Dust off your stationery, practice your penmanship and try and write at least one thank you note each week. Reacquaint yourself with snail mail and send a message that will thank, empower and touch someone else in a meaningful way. Perhaps you'll be the beneficiary of more hand-written notes as well.

Identify at Least 25 Influencers: I believe in the power of a Personal Board of Directors to help guide you in your professional life. Take that concept and broaden it. Write down at least 25 influencers, thought leaders, and industry experts in your field that you should know. Think boldly -- you need not know them already and this list will give you a chance to expand your network.

A friend and colleague, Anna Seacat recently blogged about her interest in working at her dream company, IBM with the intention of building a new professional connection. It worked! IBM took notice and initiated a phone interview because they were impressed with her moxie and her skills. Have stretch influencers on your list. Think big about who can help advance your career cause and harness your professional chutzpah.

Busy Leaders Make Time for Others: The top-level leaders in my circle of trust have schedules that would make anyone's head spin. They also know the importance of making time for others and in true leadership fashion they focus on helping others regularly.

Use 30 minutes every day to help someone else in need. That person may come to you but if not, seek out an individual who can benefit from your attention. A mere half-hour in every 24-hour cycle is a great way to hone your leadership abilities by helping others. Everyone can afford 30 minutes a day to help someone else.

Great Leaders Respond: The busiest leaders I know take the time to respond. We live in an age of email overload and I know how difficult it can be manage the volume daily. We must train our audience about expectations. It's easy to send a quick response to let them know your message is important. Customize a reply like this that you can share easily when your inbox is overflowing:

"Great to hear from you and please know that your message is important to me. This is an extremely busy time so I will get back to you within a few days when I can thoughtfully respond to your email with my full attention. Many thanks for your patience and understanding."

Hyper Specialize: The career world is full of Jills and Jacks-of-all-Trades. Subject matter experts, specialists, and those with laser like focus are in high demand. Would you hire a General Practitioner to perform your open-heart surgery? Think about what distinguishes you in your field and market and brand yourself accordingly so others know your niche.

Having a specialty area will grow your business, hone your brand, and help identify you as an expert in a very crowded market of generalists. Make yourself searchable as the extraordinary specialist you are and enjoy the benefits of a target market.

Identify the Threats: Great leaders are strategists who anticipate problems before they arise. What's in your way? Who are your competitors and what are the obstacles keeping you from moving forward? Perform regular SWOT analyses to determine strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. This technique will help you identify issues and provide essential solutions.

Go BIG or Go Home: Perhaps you are familiar with the acronym: BHAG -- Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal! What's your BHAG? Give yourself permission to dream BIG and announce your goal to others. Write it down and put it out into the universe so others will surface to help you accomplish your goal. Take a risk - try something new and add a giant goal to your professional plan.

Give, Give, Get: Consider how you can give of your time, talent, or treasure to others in need. The more you give away, the more that comes back to you in the karmic circle of life. Even if you are not in a place where you can give financially, consider how you can be philanthropically minded and pay-it-forward to others.

My time in Washington, DC made me think of the powerful story about how discarded Metro cards were collected over a few years in busy subway stations with very small amounts of change left on the cards. The seemingly worthless cards had a collective tally of over 52 million. Those funds were distributed to charities in need. What are you throwing away that might help another? I believe philanthropy is part of our social responsibility as citizens and makes the world a better place.

Thank you National Speakers Association Convention 2015! I learned so much and I am grateful for these leadership lessons to share with my network. See you next year.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the second edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and the British online magazine - The Rouse. She is hosting a webisode series called Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women and hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - check it out on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook,LinkedIn, and Twitter.