I’m thrilled to be part of YNPN Chicago’s Leadership Institute. This intensive leadership program takes participants on an exploration of what it means to be a leader in theory and in practice. Like many, I have trouble making time to think about these issues and what they mean for me. The daily commotion of putting out fires, keeping on top of communications with stakeholders, and furthering an organization's mission, make it difficult to find the time to sit down and reflect on yourself and the person you want to be. Am I growing as a leader? Is my job keeping me on the right career path? Do I even know where I want to be in ten years?
The Leadership Institute forces you to ask yourself those questions and, more importantly, gives you the space to contemplate your answers. What happens when you take the time to contemplate these questions' moments– that’s a scientific term. Those moments of clarity help declutter life and make existential questions a little less scary.
I had one such moment after watching and thinking through Drew Dudley’s Ted Talk, Everyday Leadership, during the Leadership Institute (I recommend watching the full talk here). According to Dudley, leadership isn't always about changing the world, and we shouldn’t build leadership up to be so big that it becomes unattainable. I think this is particularly true in the nonprofit sector, where we are tackling seemingly insurmountable social issues. In Dudley’s talk, he describes his most heroic act. One that seemed insignificant to him at the time. He was promoting at a student event and handed a lollipop and gave a compliment to an incoming student who, unbeknownst to him, was experiencing anxiety over starting school away from home. In that moment he made her feel like she belonged at that school, which convinced her to stay. Dudley didn’t think of that moment again until four years later when the girl told him about the impact he had made in her life.
How crazy is it that we measure leadership with such lofty standards (starting a movement, running a company, etc.) that we may be missing moments where we can change people’s lives? Maybe it’s talking a friend through accepting a challenging new position. Or perhaps it’s smiling at a stranger who is having a rough day. We all have opportunities every day to impact the lives of others, and we should never discount that. Sometimes it’s the smallest actions in life that make the greatest impact. These moments can be the start of something much bigger.
Now go out there and give someone a lollipop!
About the Author
Brooke Fallon is the Assistant Director of Community Relations at the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. Brooke leads the IJ Clinic’s efforts to engage government officials, community members, and strategic partners in order to open opportunities for low-income entrepreneurs. Brooke received her B.A. in International Studies from the University of Chicago. Brooke also serves as the Marketing Chair on the St. Thomas the Apostle School Board.