This story originally appeared on Forbes.com.
How This Millennial COO Contributes To Bridging The Partisan Divide By Engaging Young Legislators
The 2020 election is more significant than just voting for the next President of the United States. People are also voting for the next generation of young leaders at the local and national levels of government. As new policymakers begin planning to change the country's future, organizations such as the Millennial Action Project (MAP) help bridge the gaps. MAP, a national, nonpartisan nonprofit, works directly with the nation's leading young policymakers to spur bipartisan legislation and innovative policy solutions. It supplies resources and support to create, introduce, and pass legislation and forge productive partnerships on the issues affecting America's youngest generation.
Layla Zaidane, executive director and COO at MAP, utilizes her corporate America and advocacy background to implement internal and external strategies to MAP's mission.
"We work with young people around issues that are important to our generation, important to our country and going to have lasting ripple effects on our society," Zaidane expresses. "I was excited to join because our constituency, in particular, was young, elected officials. I thought that was such a smart idea to mobilize this group of people who hold the leverage of power, who were able to make that direct change in public policy."
As an international affairs major, Zaidane pursued roles in public service. However, with limited positions available, she took an opportunity at LivingSocial as a marketing specialist. She consulted with business owners across the country to increase their online presence and grow their customer base. When she joined the organization, it was still in the startup phase. "I looked at it as 'well, what can I learn here? What can I grow from in this job?" she explains. "I learned communication skills are important, no matter what you're doing. In any job, you're going to have to persuade people of your position and figure out how to drive people to action. It also toughened me up. In sales, you have to hear no, a lot, and keep going."
She then transitioned to the Center for American Progress, working on the youth advocacy arm called Campus Progress, which is now Generation Progress. She served as the communications associate. She took her experience with online marketing from the corporate world and replicated some of the campaign strategies in a public realm. After five years, MAP approached her with an opportunity to take the lead at scaling its organization and onboarding a team.
Deciding to join MAP, she realized that the organization was a combination of her past two roles. As much as it was similar to LivingSocial, where it was still in the startup phase, it also had similarities to Generation Progress. She looked forward to continuing her work in public service with a constituency of young people and youth advocacy.
Zaidane credits an unplanned pivot to her career success. Although it didn't begin how she intended, her openness gave her exposure to a different skill set that she now applies to her current position.
"There are two big things that were helpful for me," she explains about her career advancement. "One was just this concept of saying, yes. I was in a position at that point where I couldn't be very picky or selective. I had to come from places of yes, not come from a place of no, and not shut myself off from things...I tried to stay curious. You can learn something from everyone and everything. There's always something to be learned whether you think you're an expert or not."
At MAP she contributes to the mission of bridging the partisan divide by engaging young legislators from both parties. "In a for-profit environment," Zaidane explains, "the goal is straightforward and what you're supposed to do. In a mission-driven organization, the end goal is pretty clear to everyone. But the milestones that get you to that big mission are a little less clear a lot of the time. In that first six months, I grappled with thinking about like, 'okay, so what are we trying to do here? How are we going to affect the change that we want to see? How come it's not happening in three months? It took a lot of patience and humility to be willing to ask tough questions."
As Zaidane not only transitions her team's strategy and approach daily but her leadership style as well, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Make the word yes a part of your everyday vocabulary. Schedule that coffee meeting. Go to the event. Try a new opportunity. You never know which yes will lead you to your ideal position.
- Stay curious. Everyone has some expertise to share. Learn a new skill, ideology or way of conducting business. Learning a new skill set can only increase your value.
- Develop a positive mindset. If you view every lens from negativity, you won't advance as quickly as planned. Having a positive attitude helps you recognize different opportunities in certain situations.
"Looking back," Zaidane concludes, "it all makes sense how one thing led into the other. At the time, I can tell you it did not feel like it was a straight line. It felt like a roller coaster. I did some things that now, in hindsight, make it seem like it was all planned, but it definitely didn't always feel that way."