Why Leaders Must Be The Inspiration
Leadership can sound like such an elite concept — one that’s reserved for top executives, high-ranking politicians, or successful entrepreneurs.
But leadership happens in everyday moments, by everyday people, doing everyday things.
Children show leadership every day, whether by rescuing a neglected kitten or intervening when a bully attacks a classmate at school.
Teenagers show leadership every day, whether by volunteering with the student council or tutoring classmates after school.
Moms show leadership every day, whether by spearheading a fundraiser or serving as a scout leader.
Dads show leadership every day, whether by coaching their kids’ baseball team or joining the PTA.
Employees show leadership every day, whether by doing undesirable tasks without being asked or mentoring a new hire.
Entrepreneurs show leadership every day, whether by building a team to execute an idea or developing a better solution to serve their customers.
Although leadership looks different from person to person, leaders of all kinds are united by a certain set of traits. Chief among them is that they’re purpose-driven people who want to make a difference. Through the positive energy they direct toward their goals, they motivate themselves and others, inspiring action.
Leaders are clear and focused and know how to effectively communicate their ideas. By igniting in themselves a desire to make a change, they can also spark others to help transform ideas into realities. By bringing out the best in themselves and other people, leaders serve a community and work toward the greater good. Their purpose guides and fuels them to make life better.
Leaders can engage in a give-and-take of inspiration with talented people, building a team that works together to achieve a shared mission. Not intimidated by working with people who are smarter or better than them in some way, effective leaders take pride in helping others become their best selves.
When you’re able to inspire and be inspired and can unite your team around a shared vision, that’s when the magic happens. And by empowering others to shine, you inspire them to become leaders, too. The more we empower positive leaders, the more the world benefits — a win-win for everyone.
We develop our leadership skills by using empathy to notice that which moves us, upsets us, affects us, or makes us feel passionate. Once we are motivated, and feel that urge to do something about it, we start with small accomplishments, then work toward bigger goals.
Taking action, no matter how big or small, keeps the fire burning within us and ignites a spark in others. When we share the positive energy we feel about our mission with other people, they also can feel motivated to create and achieve. Leaders can transform apathy into empathy by the sheer force of their passion. The more leaders motivate themselves and others, the more they become the inspiration.
When I think about developing leadership, I remember an important class project I spearheaded in college. The project meant a lot to me because it was one of the first times I felt that my leadership made a positive impact on the community.
Each student had to come up with a proposal about a company or organization we wanted to work with (the client) to generate awareness for it through a pro bono (no fee) promotional campaign. We had to pitch what the organization was, why we wanted to promote it, what the campaign would entail, and how we would measure success. Then the class would choose four proposals to execute.
This was after my experience of being sexually assaulted at a fraternity house. Since that time, I had become aware of the growing (but hidden) problem of date rape on campus, so I was focused on how to make life better for women who had been through an experience similar to — or even worse than — mine. I decided to throw my energy behind an organization that was making a difference in the lives of young women who had been sexually assaulted or raped.
I researched local organizations working to help these survivors and found one that seemed just right. The organization provided support services to survivors of all forms of sexual violence. I reached out, and grateful for the interest and potential awareness on campus, they enthusiastically agreed to be my client.
Preparing my proposal, I thought about how wrong it was that I’d had no idea this organization even existed before I did the research. In my view, every girl in every dorm should have been made aware of this resource as soon as she arrived on campus. Perhaps by knowing what date rape was, and how to avoid it, students could help prevent it.
I included that background as part of my “why,” and then moved on to building the campaign. The first step would be a phone survey to determine how much awareness of the organization there was among my target population of female students in four of the high-rise dorms on campus.
Next, my group and I would create flyers with tear-off informational tabs at the bottom and hang them in the common areas on every floor where female students lived. The plan was to later go back and visually assess how many of the tabs had been pulled off the flyers. Then we would do a follow-up phone survey to determine how much awareness of the organization there was after our campaign. The results would be compiled, and a summary would be delivered to the client.
Each student pitched their proposal to the class and professor, then the class voted. I was surprised and grateful when my proposal made the cut and work could begin to raise awareness of my client — ultimately benefiting young women.
As a team leader, I coordinated the execution of the phone surveys, distributed the flyers, ascertained how many tabs had been pulled, compiled the data, and presented our results. Prior to our campaign, the majority of our target audience had never heard of the organization. But after the campaign, the majority of our target audience had heard of it. When asked how they’d heard of it, they answered “flyer in my dorm.”
The realization that our campaign was responsible for the significant increase in awareness for our client meant so much more than a successful class project. It meant we had raised awareness of date rape and had potentially helped prevent it from happening. And if it did occur, survivors would know where to go for support. That was very inspiring to me.
As my leadership skill grew, I continued to motivate myself. By doing so, I motivated others, too. The more I identified problems, came up with solutions, shared what I was passionate about, and put positive energy into the world (and got positive energy back), the more I could inspire and be inspired.
Elisa Schmitz is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, and the author of Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success. She’s the Latina founder and CEO of 30Seconds.com, an inspiring digital media platform that makes the world a happier, healthier, and more delicious place — 30 seconds at a time. She’s also the founder of iParenting, a “Best of the Web” digital media company that was acquired by the Walt Disney Company. After the sale, Elisa worked for Disney as director and executive editor of the Disney Interactive Media Group. She has been a newspaper columnist, magazine editor, radio and video host, and creator of content and marketing programs for various Fortune 500 companies.