Leaders have to understand what their people are experiencing. They have to be emotionally intelligent, understand other people’s career goals, what makes them tick and know what motivates them to be great. Maybe a good leader is someone who has a little bit of the “it” factor? They certainly have to be charismatic and genuine. People want to follow these people for some reason. You want to believe in what they are doing and they seem to always do the “right” thing. They lead by example and make contributions. They are problem solvers. They get the best out of people and empower them. Leaders give their time, serve others, are driven and are a long, giant list of other descriptive words like visionary, enthusiastic, motivational, committed, passionate and on and on. They encourage you by saying, “You can do it. I did.” That is a very long list of things for a leader to be.
Let’s take a step back and talk about real life and the qualities it takes to be a leader everyday. I know a fourteen-year-old girl. She is very active in her church and a girl scout from a young age with a father that is a minister. They recently built a new church in a “rougher” part of town. The girl noticed that there were many homeless people in the area and decided to start a food bank. She coordinated initial donations from her congregation and later the community. Very quickly, it moved from serving one hundred and fifty families to three hundred weekly. The girl was leading with her heart.
A friend of mine is an Operations Manager at one of the largest retailers in the world. He started there at nineteen unloading freight. He worked himself up to being a department grocery manager. One day, the CEO visited the store and stopped to ask him a few questions about what he was doing. He was so articulate that the CEO said, “Sign him up for a leadership program.” The Operations Manager is now in charge of a portfolio bigger than most companies and continues to mentor and develop other managers in much the same way. He has promoted and developed over one hundred managers in his career that have gone on to develop other managers. He and the CEO have created a cycle of leadership.
A computer programmer I met a few months ago told me that she came from an underprivileged background. She was picked on in school, and only because she ended up in “higher track” classes, did she avoid landing in gangs. After a successful career, she and her husband started a website with their own money, free to students and schools, providing career information, STEM and life education to girls. The first time I saw the website I said to her, “This is the most amazingly simple, generous thing I have ever seen that helps others.” She answered, “So many people helped me. I never could have made itwithout them. I had to do it.” She felt like she had an obligation to lead because of the generosity of others telling her that she could get good grades, that she was smart and that gamgs were not the right path. She wanted to pass that self-belief along to others.
I once taught a new employee orientation class at a hospital. I worked with a woman who had very low reading skills on passing basic knowledge tests in order to keep her job. I would see her in the hallway every once in a while and ask how it was going but after a few years, I lost track of her. Five years went by and I had I changed jobs. One day, a lady came up to me and said, “You don’t remember me do you?”I said, “You look familiar but I am sorry, I can’t place you.” She said, you helped me get my job and then you worked with me on some reading techniques. I ended up going back to school to become a nurse because I felt like I could do it.” I was blown away and incredibly humbled.
Finally, I once had a college professor that was my advisor in college. He asked me, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” I said, “I really have no idea.” He replied, “I honestly think that you can do anything in the world that you put your mind to. You are just one of those people.” I have never forgotten that line. It has gotten me through a lot of self-doubt. That professor was a lifelong leader by inspiring others, including me.
Never doubt that you have what it takes to be a leader. You just have to decide what type of leader you want to be. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Ronald Reagan
By Melissa Andrews
Melissa Andrews has been a corporate facilitator, instructional designer, online author and currently a grants administrator for Career and Technical Education for Illinois Community Colleges. She has two Bachelors in Political Science, Elementary Education; a Masters in Organizational Development, Instructional Design and is working on an Ed.D in Adult Education, Community College Leadership.
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