If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
-John Quincy Adams
Linda never would have imagined the role she now finds herself playing as the head of a multi-million dollar non-profit organization complete with staff, board of directors, volunteers, and members numbering in the thousands. As she told me recently, she often wonders how exactly it is that she wound up here and how she is doing…really. Her concerns come not from false modesty but from her unconventional path towards leadership.
In the fall of 2002, Linda, a former nurse and mother of four from Greenville, SC, read an article about a group of friends who met for potluck dinners and collected donations for needy families using the money they would have otherwise spent in restaurants. She was struck by the idea of using “dining out dollars” to help others. On her birthday in January 2003, she invited some friends to her home to celebrate, a hat was passed and $750 was raised to help women and girls in the developing world. For the next few years, she and a co-founder labored tirelessly in Linda’s kitchen to nurture and raise awareness of this powerful, but simple idea.
By focusing on women and girls, Linda’s group empowers women to find solutions to the problems they face through education, health care, and economic development. Over the years, the organization has captivated hearts across the U.S, and increasingly, the world. They currently fund about twenty projects a year and have raised and distributed millions of dollars to self-help projects that have raised the hopes and real lives of innumerable families.
So how does someone develop the agility and flexibility to make the personal shifts and organizational changes that are required to move the seed of a good idea into a thriving organization? I think if I had to pick just one quality that speaks to agility it would be the commitment to lifelong learning, a quality Linda exemplifies. She learns from everyone around her, as well as from the people and resources she seeks out.
By looking for new and fresh ideas, she strives to keep herself and her organization at the cutting edge and able to move quickly to capture attractive possibilities. In both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, this ability to lead and manage for agility is essential in today’s VUCA* world.
*VUCA is an acronym first used in the military that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Sometimes it is the more politically correct way of saying “Wow, it’s crazy and wild out there!”