What Does It Take for Community Leaders to Lead from Within?
Take a look around you. You, me, all of us have the capacity to be leaders, no matter how old or young we are. Now, imagine what our collective leadership, driven by purpose and values, can do for our communities if everyone has equal access to leadership development, opportunity and the realization that they too can be a leader. And not just any leader. Diverse changemakers who combine self-awareness, a motivation to make meaningful connections, and a commitment to community action for the greater good are able to authentically lead from within.
Investing in leaders to develop and activate their community leadership
This leadership framework is embedded in Wilder’s capacity building work and leadership programs: an emphasis on you, the connections you make and the actions you plan to take. I believe in this framework not just because I have worked at Wilder for more than decade now. It’s also because of my own story. My family and I came to this country as refugees with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and we received social services until I turned 18. Growing up, I was an angry young person who felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and that no one cared what I thought. No one thought of me as a leader and I certainly didn’t think of myself as such. I felt both targeted and invisible at the same time, but I knew I had something to say.
I discovered my sense of agency when a mentor told me that I could use my voice and ideas to create positive change in my community. I had no idea at the time that she was using her leadership skills to connect me to resources and help me identify solutions to the challenges I saw all around me. Because of my mentor, I know what it feels like when others invest in me and enable me to access my personal power and activate my personal leadership. As a leader at Wilder, I give back to the community by leveraging my leadership to lift up, amplify and influence people and provide spaces for renewing, building and strengthening their community leadership.
Creating positive impact with extraordinary community leaders of change
Our communities, neighborhoods and organizations become stronger when we encourage everyone to see themselves as leaders capable of making a positive impact. When participants graduate each year from Wilder’s community leadership programs, they are excited to lead with more focus, hope and social capital. They are more confident in who they are and in their abilities to boldly lead change. By participating in our programs with a cohort, leaders have a community that not only supports their journey but continues to challenge them and the systems around us to do better for the people of Saint Paul, the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and beyond.
Through my personal and professional experience, I have seen the transformation of people into active changemakers when they use their leadership to create change in their communities. I have also seen the powers of access and inclusion in authentic leadership, when we accept that the people with different backgrounds and those most impacted need to be a part of the solution as assets with talents and strengths to contribute. They start to see themselves not just as others see them but as the person they have always wanted to become, and as extraordinary community leaders of change who lead from within.
Photo: Nou Yang, Senior Director of Wilder Community Leadership Programs, addressed alumni, donors, partners and staff at an annual fundraising event for Hmong youth at the Wilder Center in September 2018.