Author: Victoria Cohen

Unleashing Leadership Potential: My Journey at Engage! Cleveland's LEAD CLE Conference

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Engage! Cleveland’s LEAD CLE: Professional Development Conference at the historic Cleveland Public Library. As a downtown resident, the walk to the conference was a snowy adventure, adding a wintry charm to the journey.

Stepping into this conference, I felt a mix of nerves and excitement, much like the feeling before embarking on something new. With a year and a half under my belt as the Marketing Specialist at Staffing Solutions Enterprises, I’ve been connected to many opportunities to grow within my role and as a professional. However, the conference served as a reminder that there’s always more to learn. At 25, still early in my professional journey, LEAD CLE offered an opportunity to learn, connect, refine my leadership skills, and absorb insights from seasoned leaders across Northeast Ohio.

Day 1 unfolded with a captivating lineup of speakers, each offering a distinct lens on leadership.

Photo from Day 1 at the LEAD Cle Conference

Day 1 Speaker Lineup


Amy Shannon’s exploration of healthy work habits prompted introspection beyond task prioritization, urging consideration of the broader impact of individual work habits. Kevin Smith’s presentation on intentional relationship-building highlighted the power of authenticity and the importance of the value you bring to others in networking. Mary Shankman Levy delved into cultivating emotional awareness, urging self-reflection and emotional intelligence as key strategies to enhance emotional control in the workplace. Melanie Meyers closed the day with insights on becoming a powerful communicator, emphasizing the need for goal-oriented communication that is tailored to the communication styles of individual team members.

Marcy Shankman (left) and Amy Shannon (right)

One of my favorite activities from Day 1 was networking BINGO where we were handed bingo boards and tasked with finding others who matched various characteristics to fill them in. This unique approach deviated from the standard introduction question of “What do you do?” at networking events. Instead, we engaged strangers with more personal questions about their upbringing such as if they’re a runner or whether they had a pet. The resulting conversations fostered connections based on shared interests and experiences, making the networking experience far richer and more memorable.

Here are my favorite takeaways from Day 1

  • If you pretend at something long enough, you get pretty good at it
  • Don’t be afraid to try just because you might get hit by the pitch, rejection and failure are a necessary part of the process
  • Distinguish what’s important from what’s urgent
  • Know your non-negotiables, and set appropriate boundaries for healthy work habits
  • Consider the intent and the goal before you send a work email or message

On Day 2 of the conference, I opted to sit at a brand new table with unfamiliar faces. My intention was to actively apply the tools I learned from Day 1, rather than defaulting to what most would normally do. As humans, we tend to like routines, but stepping outside of my comfort zone, was worthwhile as it further expanded my network and set the tone for curiosity and growth during the final day of LEAD Cle.

Photo from Day 2 of the Lead Cle Conference

Day 2 Speaker Lineup


As Day 2 unfolded, the momentum continued with three speakers and a panel discussion. Diane Helbig, shared valuable insights on mastering the craft of selling, advocating for a shift from a selling mindset to a learning one. George Sample, provided invaluable tips on understanding workplace culture, emphasizing the significance of unwritten company rules and likability in career progression. Mark Hamilton’s presentation on effective collaboration highlighted the importance of clearly defined goals and expectations while working with a team. The panel discussion on bridging generational divides offered a nuanced exploration of values, communication styles, workplace challenges across generations.

George Sample (left) and the LEAD Panel from Day 2 (right)

Here are my favorite takeaways from Day 2

  • Shift from a selling mindset to a discovery mindset and be genuinely curious -> you will learn so much more this way and be able to build trust with others
  • Networking is for the long-term, you won’t typically see instant rewards
  • Always send a post meeting re-cap with a summary, action items, and who’s responsible for what
  • Don’t let the meeting be the first time the Executive team hears about your new idea or proposal, have a pre-meeting with key influencers in the organization first so you can revise it, improve and already have support from stakeholders before the official meeting is even held

Navigating through the LEAD CLE conference felt like stepping into a real-world guidebook for professional growth. Now, while I’ve made strides toward the legendary 500 LinkedIn connections (no promises on that one!) this conference was so much more than a pocketful of presentation notes. In all seriousness, the depth of insights and connections I gained was beyond my expectations. Engaging in authentic table discussions and embracing the networking opportunities allowed me to develop new connections with fellow young professionals, adding a genuine layer of value to the entire experience.

With these newly acquired leadership skills in my arsenal, I find myself on the brink of shaping not only my professional but also my personal growth within the vibrant city of Cleveland.

In a city filled with opportunities, LEAD CLE has unfolded a new chapter in my leadership journey. Carrying these new insights, I’m curious to where else I can apply these tools and skills, embracing more opportunities whether through my work at Staffing Solutions Enterprises, volunteering, or taking on leadership roles in the community. Still learning, growing, and eager to connect with anyone I can learn from, here’s to genuine progress, authentic connections, and exciting possibilities that lie ahead!


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