Cross post with Forefront Austin. Read the original post on the Forefront Austin website.
Dinner is winding down. The kids need a bath, tuck-in. The couch beckons. Sometimes, in my house, the couch wins.
But that’s not every day. Not for me and not for others.
Austin is home to extraordinary individuals - people who, after a long day working and caring for themselves, friends, and family, get up from the dinner table - avoiding that couch - and go back out to serve the community. Who, instead of succumbing to anxious overload when faced with our community’s needs, move forward to work toward the greater good for everyone.
Leading change in Austin, in fact in any community, requires a long view and comfort with a lack of clarity. It demands long hours and a commitment to something beyond immediate self-gratification. There are set-backs and frustrations - there are no quick-fixes.
It’s a daunting job description, yet Austin is home to many leaders who step forward to innovate for our community, helping us respond and adapt to an ever-changing set of needs. What is it about Austin that cultivates so many who avoid the pull of the couch?
When you’ve been trying to develop a community-wide transportation system for decades, what keeps drawing you back to the table to seek new alternatives? When our population grows, stretching our capacity to serve our neediest, where do you find the unique solutions?
Leadership Austin trains leaders every day to turn their passion into action. Our programs provide practical tools for community stewardship, collaboration, inclusion and personal responsibility. But all the book learning in the world doesn’t make a capable or resilient leader. It takes something more. In the course of my work I am extremely lucky to observe and interact with leaders of amazing caliber. I’m always so curious about the “secret sauce” that keeps them forging ahead when challenges knock them down. Here are some of the themes that I’m noticing about resilient leaders that keep them coming back on behalf of our community:
It’s my quest to fully express myself in everything I do, both at home and work, and I hope that in doing so I inspire the same for others. Strong community leaders operate at the intersection of their own personal passion and a deep organizational or community need. Not every job every day will operate at that intersection - sometimes you just need to get the task done. But when it comes to the bigger picture, these leaders are finding the place where their passion can solve a problem or fill a gap.
Hence, ingredient number one: Clear, compelling mission. Clarity on what you are most passionate about can be turned into positive action on behalf of others.
It’s funny to me how so many people talk about their children, or their dogs, as a source of perspective. Sometimes a dog that closes a laptop with a paw or sits nearby, whimpering, leash in mouth, is the catalyst to get out of the daily grind. And sometimes stepping away from that laptop is the best way to see a new solution.
Success for many leaders is about much more than having vision - it’s being able to reach out and touch their mission frequently. These leaders actively seek opportunities to take the vantage point of the organizations or people they serve - real-life points of view that they can’t find in any policy paper or grant application. Eugene Sepulveda, CEO, Entrepreneur’s Foundation of Texas, for example, walked the streets of Haiti to help determine the best use of the relief funds he stewards. Pat Hayes, in addition to her tremendous community responsibilities, finds time to provide volunteer tax services. Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation, makes a point to visit and assist in their mobile dental clinics, handing out toothbrushes - the very first one for some kids.
Ingredient number two: Sleeve-rolling. Serving on the front lines changes the way these leaders understand community challenges and encounter opportunities one simply cannot see from the board room.
Celebration and Replenishment
Since the path to meaningful and sustainable change is long and complex, the biggest projects rarely have a definitive finish line. The leaders I admire set, notice, and celebrate clear milestones along the way - even if the outcomes achieved weren’t exactly what they had in mind. Frequent celebration prevents the “overload zone”, where the goal seems too big, too far, too high, creating bystanders out of even the most capable among us. It also helps keep morale high - for ourselves, and our teams. “I schedule team parties and personal vacations well in advance” said Sylvia Acevedo, community leader extraordinaire, “it keeps us motivated and refreshed.”
Ingredient number three: Personal replenishment and anticipation of success. A positive mindset and willingness to acknowledge that even the little wins keep us going over the long haul.
The tools of leadership can be taught (find out about joining a Leadership Austin program) but the call to lead and the ability to sustain that path are much trickier to master.
The one thing that gives me clarity and perspective and replenishes me faster than anything is a conscious and daily habit of active appreciation. Every day I am grateful for the amazing leaders I meet throughout Austin, Texas. It is these community leaders who are fighting the good fight and working diligently to make Central Texas a better place for all of us to live.
I aspire to be more like them every day, and I challenge you to seek out what will get you to resist the couch tonight and engage with your community. And it’s totally okay if it’s just a walk with your dog.