Lucky 13

There is so much I’ve been able to take away from the various nonprofits I’ve been involved with. I have worked several jobs outside the nonprofit social sector that were enjoyable, but when I found nonprofits whose missions I could align with, I found careers.

At one particular organization that I recently worked for, Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), I not only aligned with the mission but also the 13 staples of the organization. The staples were a guiding principle for the organization. STLF believed the staples were a fun way to describe the culture and character of the organization. I knew of these staples as I volunteered and worked at the organization, but they also became part of my everyday life and leadership outside of STLF. As I share and reflect on what I’ve learned with STLF, nonprofits, and leadership, I’ve bolded the 13 staples to help demonstrate the impact they have made in my life.

After six years of being with STLF as a volunteer and as a staff member of the National Support Office, I’ve learned it is so important to just keep learning. Best practices, what society needs/interests are, and trends are constantly changing. Being open to learning new things can go a long way. Being open can be difficult though, because it forces you to reflect not only on what is happening around you but also to grow as an individual. Growth happens with reflection. Knowing and embracing my identities allowed me to be a better leader and a better asset to my team. I resonate with identity-driven leadership because it allows me to navigate my own instincts and intuition based on my experiences and how I want to show up.

Leadership goes beyond a title. Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a position of power. You can be a leader in everyday life through the choices you make. Leading is an art—it is following, listening, guiding, creating, and so much more. The key is to lead your way. I never would have thought I had what it takes to be a leader. That is, until I was put into a position where I had ownership and flexibility to showcase my own leadership without boundaries, and I didn’t have to follow the exact structure of how someone else would choose to lead in that moment. Coordinating and facilitating leadership road trips for students requires a lot of planning and preparation, there may be bumps in the road but when in doubt fly it out. The trick is to recreate a flexible plan. You must allow yourself to succeed and if things don’t go according plan then reassess and find something else that works.

When I first started volunteering with STLF in college, I thought that most ice breakers and team-building activities were silly and didn’t serve much purpose. But many of those activities allowed my groups and I to grow closer and stronger as a team. I brought this learning to the places I’ve worked because I held, and continue to hold, the belief that success reflects the strength of the core. Of course there may be external factors that are beyond your control, but it’s vital to build up a team that works together for the greater cause. Working on a team and working with youth has allowed me to learn a lot about other people and their lives. Every person has a story, everyone’s life has meaning.  Everyone has a purpose. Take the time to learn these stories as well as to share yours. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a competition; share don’t compare. Everyone’s experiences have made an impact on their life in some way or another. One person’s confidence, success, and accomplishments do not take away from yours. Along those lines, it is also important to remember the practice of serving by example. People often say leaders are seen, not heard, and service shouldn’t be done for praise. Leadership should be exhibited through actions, by acting as examples for those around us. It shouldn’t stop with one person though. Bring it on back to other aspects of your life. Continue to share learnings with other people in hopes it will carry on with them as well.

If you are truly leading, you will be challenged, frustrated, and often find yourself with your back against the wall. I never thought defining leadership or trying to connect it to everyday life would be difficult. Leadership is tough. It is not always easy but the first step is defining what it means to you and what you can bring to the group. It’s important to be transparent but also to keep a positive mental attitude (PMA). A little can go a long way, PMA, all the way.

As I move forward into other careers and learn more about the nonprofit sector, I know I will be able to continue reflecting on these staples. Aligning myself with the mission of this organization and living out these staples has allowed me to learn more about myself and what I stand for than I ever thought was possible.

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