On Wednesday, I had the chance to attend Maryland Nonprofits’ Annual Conference in Annapolis, which focused on Sustaining Nonprofit Leadership. When I walked into the room, I admit, I felt a little out of place. The room was filled with people who looked like board members, presidents, and generally higher-ups in nonprofit organizations, and almost all of them looked older than me. I felt a little like a kid playing dress up. Who was I, a mere AmeriCorps member, to have the audacity to stand in the room with all of these powerful people and call myself a leader? Well, luckily, I knew that was a silly question to be asking myself and the speakers and breakout sessions throughout the day confirmed it.
I won’t go into too much detail on the day. Transcriptions of speeches and nitty gritty details of training sessions don’t make for good blog posts. Besides, you can find a lot of that information on the Annual Conference web page, linked above. What I want to highlight from the conference is the idea that leadership does not just come from above. Leaders are everywhere in your organization. They may not have leadership titles (such as manager, president, VP), but if they inspire good work in those around them, whether by example or by encouragement, they are leaders just the same. Your office assistant who knows everything about everyone in the organization and can get you in touch with exactly the right person to help you with your event/project/idea? (S)he’s a leader. The person in IT who can figure out exactly what is wrong with your computer and fix it at the drop of a hat? (S)he’s a leader. That new employee who has tons of ideas and is always popping into your office to suggest how something could be done differently/better? (S)he’s a leader. And that AmeriCorps member who spends her days on the phone supporting and encouraging other AmeriCorps members? Well, she’s a leader too.
When we think of leaders, we often think of a person standing up on stage, giving a rousing speech, boosting the morale of their followers, and urging them to action. Those people are just one type of leader. Leaders also lead from the trenches. They work hard to confront issues they are passionate about. They get down and dirty to plant trees and gardens, clean up the streets, and make their community a cleaner, safer, more beautiful place to live. They work in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, in schools and health clinics to improve the lives of those around them. They teach, tutor, and provide services to those in need. They recruit volunteers and inspire them with their own passion to do what is right and good. AmeriCorps members do all of these things. AmeriCorps members are leaders by example. Though I knew this going in, networking with nonprofit leaders during the conference and listening to the speakers reaffirmed my knowledge that I, too, am a leader, that the work I do as an AmeriCorps member impacts organizations and people across the state of Maryland and inspires others to do the same.
What is your take on leadership? How do you recognize those leaders within your organization who lead by example?