Welcome to the I Am A Leader blog series, featuring leaders who make a difference. Today’s guest blogger is Heather Black, a Marketing Program Manager at Liaison Resources working onsite at Dell, Inc., and a Board Member for the Young Women’s Alliance in Austin. After graduating college, Heather spent the next three years pursuing a career in law. She realized this was not the path she was destined for, and her experience through a complete career shift inspired her to document what she feels many young professionals go through on her blog, www.un-charted.com.
As a kid, I had a lot of misconceptions about life. I thought if you worked hard, had good grades, were involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun, you would be set. Your life would just make sense and fall into place. While I was obviously wrong, this innate need to achieve and be the best naturally put me in leadership positions at a young age – from student council to officer positions in the service organization I joined in college. As I reflect on my leadership journey to this point, I realize how much I have learned from the early leadership positions to the ones I serve now, and how differently I view them.
I currently serve on the Board of Directors in a marketing position for the Young Women’s Alliance here in Austin, and when I first began the term in June, all I could think about was how much I could accomplish in the year. I established quantifiable goals: publish this many press releases, get this many likes on our Facebook account, reformat the newsletter, etc. But over the past two months, I’ve realized that while those goals are certainly worth striving for, what really worries me in regards to this position has nothing to do with goals I can quantify, but everything to do with the people I work with. I worry if my interactions with my committee in their respective chair positions, the members, and my fellow board members are sufficient enough. Am I making people feel like they can achieve? Am I supportive enough? Am I positive enough? Am I listening enough? How do you measure these things? These worries led me to reflect on when this view about leadership may have shifted.
I volunteered as Guardian Ad Litem for CASA Travis County a year ago and was responsible for spending time with three children who were removed from their parents’ care and placed in the court system. I was to provide reports to the court on what I thought the best interests of the children were. It was very challenging for me to come into a family I knew nothing about and make recommendations on their behalf that could potentially affect the outcome of their entire lives. I put a lot of pressure on myself and had my goals all set up for this particular position. But as time passed, I realized my goals weren’t needed. Fulfilling this family’s needs wasn’t fixing anything for them or pursuing my own agenda. It was only to be there, offer a smile, positivity, and consistency. I wasn’t the head of anything, I didn’t have direct reports or some fancy title. I was just the person that came around to spend time with the kids, help with communications when the family didn’t quite know what was going on, and let them know that there was someone there that was willing to help them.
This experience and others has made me realize great leadership doesn’t fit in a nice little box with a black and white definition; it comes in many shapes and forms, and it is much bigger than just the individual. It is not a single act, title, or position, but a way of being – every day. Great leaders aren’t people whose exclusive reason for leading is to aspire for power, authority, glory, or prove they are smarter than everyone else. They think about how things affect others first before themselves. They are the teachers who tirelessly encourage their students, moms and dads making countless sacrifices to develop their children, and the person in the car in front of you paying for your Starbucks coffee just to pay it forward. No official title or position necessary.
I have concluded that I don’t want to be remembered for my accomplishments or positions held, but for the way I made people feel. I want those I touch to feel they are the best version of themselves and like they could accomplish anything when they are around me. Leadership potential is in everyone – what we choose to do with it is solely up to us. There is no right or wrong. You do not have to be in the spotlight to consider yourself a leader; you could offer a stranger a smile and ask them about their day – that is the beauty of it.
A special thank you to Heather Black for sharing her insights 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!