Channeling Wisdom: Sam Schofield, Budget Analyst at the U.S. Department of State

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Sam Schofield is pursuing a Masters in Business Administration at American University’s Kogod School of Business. He also works as a Budget Analyst in the Pathways Program at the U.S. Department of State, as a research and grants assistant at the Kogod Cybersecurity Governance Center, and as a graduate peer consultant at the Kogod Center for Business Communications.

 

About Sam: Prior to moving to D.C., Sam lived in Boston for seven years, where, in addition to serving as an Ambassador for YNPN Boston, he worked as a Program Officer at EcoLogic Development Fund, building institutional support for the organization’s rural development projects in Central America and Mexico. Sam is interested in political and economic issues and protection of U.S. economic interests abroad.

After his MBA program, he hopes to work in the private sector in advisory services supporting U.S. companies with market entry strategies and negotiating political risks abroad. Sam’s experience in the nonprofit sector has been extremely valuable in D.C., as proposal writing, strong communication skills, and the ability to understand an organization from all angles are skills he applies every day. Originally from New Hampshire, Sam has a B.A. in International Affairs/Geography from the University of New Hampshire.

What is your leadership style?

I am currently a second-year full-time MBA student at American University in Washington, D.C., so as you could imagine, I've thought a lot about my leadership style during the last year and a half. I would say that my leadership style is focused on building structure, accountability, and motivation for producing quality work. In an MBA program, everything is done through teams. Given the fact that everyone is juggling multiple obligations in and out of school, brings different skills, and has different priorities, every team member working on that project varies in his/her perception of the project's importance and value. Consequently, it can be difficult to ensure that projects are done efficiently. To help set us up for success, I delegate priority elements of projects according to each team member’s skills and talents, establish a clear work plan with deadlines, work with my team to determine who the audience is and what their needs are, and push regularly to hold the team to our agreed-upon standards. With the right attention to detail, we can deliver a quality end-product to both “real world” clients and for course projects.

Can you share an example of a time when you successfully led a team through a challenging time or scenario?

This past semester, as part of our second-year Global Consulting Practicum, I served as the team lead on a project for a Colombian aquaculture company and ProColombia--basically, the Colombian international trade bureau. Three of the four team members had specific career interests in consulting, so we took this project very seriously, well beyond just trying to get an A in the course (which we did). I quickly committed my team, which was composed of many talents, skill sets, and unique backgrounds, to agree on the project’s scope and the most important deliverables to the client. We then agreed on a work plan and project management template before beginning the first phase.

By making these commitments and creating clarity up front, we were able to move through the project very efficiently. Maybe even more importantly, the structure allowed us to easily identify at any point in the project which key inputs were missing and where we did not have enough detail to rationalize our recommendations, requiring us to dig deeper. It also allowed us to fully understand what were the most crucial deliverables and minimum requirements for the projects, allowing us to go above and beyond and deliver even more value to the client than expected in some areas.

How did your experience volunteering with YNPN Boston prepare you for your current leadership role?

I think my time at YNPN Boston helped me in doing what I recommended earlier: putting myself out of my comfort zone. My day job provided me with most of the professional development I needed, but YNPN Boston encouraged me to speak up more and lend my ideas and advice, including speaking in front of groups. I also had a lot of experience with institutional fundraising, but not individual fundraising. So soliciting donations and putting together campaigns was a new thing for me and something I was a little nervous about at first.

What advice do you have for nonprofit professionals trying to build their leadership?

My advice is simple: always find opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. I don't believe anyone is a natural-born leader. Yes, some people are more naturally outgoing and confident and comfortable pushing others to do things. But the best way to become a true, well-rounded leader is to constantly find scenarios, whether at work, in school, or through young professional groups like YNPN to put yourself out there, not just when people ask you to.

This can include everything from raising your hand to speak in class, speaking up more in meetings, trying to mediate a debate in a group setting, or networking with people in much more senior roles than you. We can only develop new skills by repeatedly making an effort to try out and practice the things that don’t come naturally to us.

What leadership resources have you found useful?

There are definitely a lot of great thought leaders on LinkedIn, like Adam Grant. Also, while I generally roll my eyes a bit at the deification of prominent CEOs, I do find a lot of Richard Branson's leadership advice to be really insightful and relevant especially to millennials.

I would also highly recommend any books written by Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense, and Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. I find their memoirs on leadership and management incredibly useful and applicable to careers in all sectors. They both are very humble and self-aware people who developed their leadership skills over time.

How has the nonprofit landscape changed since you started working in it? What skills will emerging leaders need that weren't in demand when you first started?

I think the nonprofit landscape has changed in that more and more, organizations with very different missions need the same skill sets. I think the days when an environmental NGO could survive with a talented set of biologists and environmental scientists is over. Nonprofits are sprouting up at a faster pace than available financial resources are growing. Therefore, to be competitive and have a sustainable mission, NPOs need more generalists, or people with broad soft skills like management, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, etc. And they need people who can wear multiple hats.


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