October 8, 2013

Lead outside your comfort zone

Every year on October 1 Optimist International installs new officers throughout the organization. Optimist Clubs get new presidents, districts get new governors and the organization welcomes a new international president as its leader. The structure encourages a rebirth of energy and enthusiasm and puts fresh eyes and hands to work to carry on the mission of the organization.

There is always a challenge to turnover; namely, change. We are programmed to resist change, not because we don't want it, but simply because change is different. Change may require us to act differently and as creatures of habit, that may make us uncomfortable. That's why the leader must put her followers at ease with open communication practices. Transparency is the friend of transition. It helps our cause when people know not only what we are doing, but why we are doing it and it furthers our cause when they are able to talk about it without feeling threatened. 

Two-way symmetrical communication is not a new concept; however, it has never been as achievable as it is today with the social media tools that exist. I encourage every Optimist Club and community service organization to embrace and use them widely in order to really engage with their constituents and stakeholders alike. Let your followers know what you're doing and listen thoughtfully to their concerns and, yes, even their criticisms. Only then will the organization open itself up to truly diverse growth potential. 

There is one other caution that I want to share with those who have recently accepted new leadership roles. It's tempting to think that this year is your year to be president. News flash: it's not. This is simply another year in the organization's long history and it is your turn to lead the organization. You must lead it in a manner that sustains it, nurtures it, and helps it to grow. 

Our leaders can be inspirational and some inspire action from individuals because of a personal commitment. However, your job as a leader is to reach out to all and to inspire more than those with whom you are already connected. John Quincy Adams said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." 

I challenge you to do more.  Lead outside your comfort zone; be a leader who inspires all. 
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