I am told that anyone who speaks to me for more than 10 minutes will quickly learn that my faith and my family are the most important things in my life. When I was asked to reflect on the most important leadership roles at this time in my life, those are the themes that popped up again. I work for the Catholic Church. This was not a lifelong goal; it was never a career that had entered the long list of things I wanted to be when I grew up, but when you are called, you are called, and you must answer. My Catholic faith has shaped the servant leader in me, inside and outside of work. It’s leading people through serving. It’s getting your hands dirty and experiencing the situation along with your co-workers, those you supervise, your boss. To put it simply, you’re walking the walk not just talking the talk. This helps build collaboration, creates a strong team, helps form a vision, and it shows those around you that you are willing to put in the hard work instead of ordering it out to others and sitting back for the results to come in. It’s challenging, but it is rewarding in so many ways.
This leadership role heavily influences what I see as being one of the most important roles of my life, being a Tía (Spanish for aunt). I am blessed to be the Tía of my 7-year-old niece who is the love of my life. I have been a mentor to youth before through non-profit organizations, but this is so different and so much more! There is no doubt that we adore each other, but I want to be an example to my niece of what it means to be a strong, smart, successful, kind, generous woman in this world. I want her to see that anything is truly possible and that there are people in her life who will be there to support, guide, and love her all along her leadership journey. This holds me accountable in my role as a leader and as an important person in her life because I know she is watching me. I know she is listening. I know that she trusts me. Everyday I am working hard to be the person that my niece thinks I am.
Being the oldest in my family, I was always put in charge of things. That didn’t translate into leadership roles in my life until I went to college. I went on a mission trip one year during Spring Break, and the friendships made on that trip literally changed my outlook on life but my also my role in the organization. I was sought out to be a speaker on retreats, sit on planning committees, and eventually lead 30+ college students on a mission trip. This mission trip is where I learned the best and hardest lessons of leadership. Being the official leader of your peers puts the spotlight on you in so many different ways.
- I learned how scrutiny increases, how your motives are questioned, how people tend to treat you differently (in good and bad ways), and how you lose your anonymity.
- I learned you have to have people you trust to go to so that you can just be yourself, away from the crowd. I learned that staying calm, cool, and collected (even when you aren’t) will keep those around you calm.
- I learned that even though you can address every doubt that people have about your decision-making, it’s sometimes best to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.
- I learned that communication is essential, that hard conversations have to happen, and how you treat people in those difficult times will address people’s concerns and they will learn to trust you.
- I also learned that innovation is a must. New ideas bring about creativity that could catapult your organization to the next level or it could fail and you go back to the drawing board. Either way, you’re learning and that in itself is successful.
The lessons learned from this leadership role have impacted every position I have held and every organization I have given my time to. I learned how to use my role as a leader to advocate for those who didn’t have a voice when I mentored and tutored at-risk youth at an Eastside elementary school, managed a child abuse prevention program, and spoke to the community about the importance of children and education. I knew I had this passion, this desire to do more in the community but wasn’t sure what to do with it. That’s when I applied for Leadership Austin‘s inaugural Emerge class. There I met people just like me, wanting to accomplish the same things I did (in different ways), gathered together wanting to become better leaders so that we can create an even better community. This involvement led me to leadership roles within the Emerge program and friendships that introduced me to great causes that I have become involved in. It is so important to surround yourself with good people who will push you to be better and do more.
I hope the legacy that I leave behind is one of perseverance and hope. I would hope that people would say that I was someone who always stood up for what she believed in, that I was a woman of my word, and was always there for those who needed her. I want to leave behind a legacy of the importance of education, discussion, and debate but within all those the importance of listening to one another. I hope people would remember that I truly wanted to make the world, at least my little slice of it, a better place. And of course, the legacy of being the best Tía in the world!
A special thank you to Ana-Cristina Gonzalez for sharing her insights about leadership with us today! Stay tuned every Friday as the I Am A Leader blog series continues. Please share this blog post via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter using the #iamaLEADER hash tag! You can connect with SOS Leadership on Twitter here and Ana-Cristina Gonzalez here.
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