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A Leadership Journey of Karen Decker, President of ICLS and ALC

Embarking on a journey from the classroom to the boardroom, our president Karen Decker, at the International Center for Language Studies (ICLS) and newly elected head of the Association of Language Companies (ALC) shares insights into a leadership evolution driven by passion, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to the power of language. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the unique path that shaped her leadership style, the invaluable lessons learned along the way, and her bold aspirations for the future. Join us as we explore the dynamic intersection of education, leadership, and the boundless possibilities that language unlocks. 


Question 1: What inspired you to pursue a career in leadership, and how did you develop your leadership style over the years? 

I didn't initially pursue a career in leadership; my lifelong ambition was to become a teacher. I have always been passionate about languages, language education, and guiding others. However, my path into leadership was more of an evolution rather than a deliberate pursuit. As I progressed in my career, I naturally assumed more supervisory roles, finding myself responsible for managing and mentoring teams. This gradual transition allowed me to discover and develop my leadership abilities. 

Over time, my leadership style has been shaped by various experiences, challenges, and learning opportunities. I've gleaned insights from both successes and failures, and I've had the privilege of working with diverse teams and individuals, each of whom has imparted valuable lessons. My approach to leadership is a constantly evolving one, built on a foundation of adaptability and continuous improvement. 

I believe that leadership is a role one accepts and refines over time, regardless of how one enters it. It's a journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and a commitment to learning from the people and circumstances around you. Progressing from a teacher to a leader within ICLS and eventually becoming the owner of the company, my leadership style became more defined yet remained open to adaptation based on the evolving needs of my team and ICLS. My leadership style continues to evolve, always receptive to new insights and challenges, as I believe that true leadership is a lifelong learning process. 


Question 2: Can you share some valuable lessons you've learned in your career that have helped you succeed as a leader at ICLS? 

Throughout my career, I've encountered numerous valuable lessons that have significantly contributed to my growth as a leader. One memorable early lesson came when I was promoted to a leadership position at ICLS at a very young age. Initially, I believed that as a leader, I had to have all the answers and be in control of everything. I worked tirelessly, often long hours, and felt that my work was never truly completed to my satisfaction. However, I quickly realized that true leadership was about more than just knowledge and control. 

One crucial lesson I learned was not to be afraid to admit when I didn't have all the answers. I discovered the power of relying on the expertise of those who had more knowledge in certain areas, fostering a collaborative and learning-oriented environment. Trusting my gut instincts also became an integral part of my leadership style, enabling me to make confident decisions and take risks, even in uncertain situations. 

Listening, I found, was one of the most potent tools in a leader's arsenal. I learned that active listening, being receptive to feedback, and genuinely understanding the concerns and ideas of team members, students, and clients created a stronger, more cohesive work environment. 


“Embracing failure was another significant lesson. I accepted that failure is an inevitable part of any journey, and instead of fearing it, I learned to embrace it as a valuable learning opportunity. It's through failure that we often discover the most innovative solutions, find our inner strength, and grow as individuals and as a team.” 


Additionally, I realized the importance of surrounding myself with the right teams. Building a strong, capable, and motivated team is a critical aspect of leadership. It's about giving team members the chance to grow, take ownership of their roles, and excel within the company. Empowering and supporting your team are fundamental aspects of effective leadership. These principles have helped me navigate my leadership journey as I continue to strive for improvement and growth. 


Question 3: You are the newly elected president of the Association of Language Companies (ALC). Looking ahead, what are your aspirations as ICLS and ALC president?  

My primary aspiration is to propel growth in ALC's membership as an association and increase student and client enrollment in ICLS' language programs. To achieve this, we are dedicated to enhancing the visibility and brand recognition of both ICLS and ALC within the language services industry. Our objective is for the ALC to become the go-to resource for clients seeking a wide range of language services, spanning language access and more, while ICLS becomes the preferred choice for language learners and clients seeking top-notch language training. 

In my role as the president of the ALC, my central focus is to augment the value of ALC membership for our members. This involves facilitating their professional development, creating opportunities for forging new business partnerships and encouraging collaborative endeavors. ALC members should view the association as an indispensable resource that directly contributes to their growth and success within the language services industry. 

For ICLS, our mission revolves around raising awareness about the inherent value of language acquisition. We aim to underscore the numerous personal and professional benefits associated with learning a new language, both for individual learners and for businesses and organizations. Emphasizing this not only attracts new students and clients but also underscores the critical role of language education in our increasingly globalized world. Additionally, we are committed to offering continuous professional development opportunities for our dedicated teachers, ensuring they remain at the forefront of language education. As the president of both ALC and ICLS, my goals center on driving growth, increasing value, and promoting the significance of language education and services in today's global landscape. 


As we conclude this illuminating interview, we are left with a profound understanding of leadership as a journey of continual growth and adaptation. From the foundations of language education at ICLS to the broader scope of the Association of Language Companies (ALC), our president's commitment to excellence, collaboration, and lifelong learning resonates. As she charts a course for the future, it's clear that her leadership is not just a role; it's a transformative force, shaping the landscape of language education and services. The intersection of passion and leadership creates a symphony, and we eagerly await the harmonious crescendo of success that is sure to resonate across both ICLS and the ALC. 

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