By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” ~Helen Keller
When you think of a “leader,” who comes to mind? We typically list examples of great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and other famous people, but we overlook the value that each of us possess as leaders.
Does your organization have strong leadership? How enthusiastic and impassioned are the leaders that sit on your board of directors? Do you think of yourself as a leader?
It’s natural for us to think of others in our lives or envision leaders that made headlines. But we overlook that we are each a leader in the circles we touch. From standing in line at the local coffee shop to wearing a mask in public due to Covid, each of us is setting an example for those who cross our paths. By simply showing up and being kind to someone, you might start to plant a seed with your morning barista that invokes a better attitude in her work and elevates her belief in herself. Whether you are leading your children, a team or an entire organization, we each have a role to influence those around us in a positive way.
Sometimes leadership comes in unexpected forms. It might be challenging someone’s statement in a gentle-but-firm way to let them know that a slur was unacceptable with our friends, our families or our co-workers. It might mean exposing oneself and discussing a difficult situation to determine how a problem could have been handled in a better way.
It is important to realize that we never know who we are influencing at any given moment. It may be a child or a random patron in the checkout line. It may be the cashier or a server, or it might even be your supervisor or other colleague.
The truth is that we can have an impact on another without even realizing it, so it is important to think about the type of leader that you want to be. As Helen Keller’s quote highlights, we are often shaped through our own trials and sufferings.
My first job out of college was with an organization that provided great service to their clients but internally was an extremely toxic environment. It was through those negative experiences that I vowed I would learn to be a better manager and always let people know that they make a difference.
Every managerial experience has offered me multiple lessons to keep refining my vision of the type of leader I want to be in this world. Personally, I am proud to lead with integrity, empathy and a growth-oriented mindset, but I didn’t always know what I stood for. It was through the trials and tribulations throughout my life that I have become the person I am today.
And thus, I encourage you to answer the following questions to help you determine what kind of leader you are and what type of leader you want to become:
- What am I most passionate about?
- What injustices do I find most disturbing?
- What issues in my past have shaped who I am today?
- What lessons have I learned from my family during early childhood?
- What lessons did I learn in school (both in and out of the classroom)?
- What stirs me so deeply that I must take action?
- What legacy do I want to leave with my children?
- What legacy do I want to leave with my staff?
- What legacy do I want to leave in my organization or industry?
- How do I want to show up in my daily living?
- How do I want to be remembered when I die?
It may seem a bit dramatic to think about your eulogy, but if you start with the end of your life in mind, it will help ensure that you live your best life every day. Our lives are the result of our daily efforts, so no one need wait a single day to start becoming your best self. And when we are the best version of ourselves, we become better leaders.
When thinking about staff and your nonprofit organization, it is important to determine how you want to lead your team on a daily basis. Do you want to feed your staff the answers, or do you want to inspire self-thinkers? Are you setting clear goals for your organization that will properly guide yourself, your staff and your board? The clearer you get about your objectives, the clearer you can get on the path to achieving success.
Invest a bit of time in answering these questions to truly set the intention for the type of leader you want to be. We have choices about how we react to things around us, and the best leaders are not influenced by their surroundings. They establish what they stand for and stay focused on their greater purpose.
All of this sounds so simple, but it is often easier said than done. The reality is that we are a species that learns through mimicking others’ behavior. If you want your team to be more focused, you must be focused. If you want your team to be empathetic, you must be empathetic.
The first step to great leadership is clearly defining what type of leader you want to be. Once defined, it is important to show up as that leader every single day whether you feel like it or not. Every moment, every word, every action is an opportunity to lead and be seen as a leader. There is a compound effect to this effort that will pay out huge dividends in the long run.
When you put forth your best self – day after day – amazing possibilities will result, and you never know what power the ripple effect of your leadership will have in the world when it is fully realized.