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The leader next door

What is it that makes Shari, Ben, Marie, Deanne and Cathy leaders? They see a need and choose to do something about it.

4 min read




I met a leader in my neighborhood the other day. She doesn’t wear designer business suits or travel with an entourage of assistants. In fact, when I see her she is usually wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and is busy moving packages from the porch of her church to the trunk of her compact SUV.

This leader’s name is Shari, and she started a program she calls “From the Porch.” Each month, she invites the surrounding community to donate specific items for area charities. Donors leave their contributions on the church’s front porch, and at the end of the month Shari delivers them to the charities. On this particular day, she was packing up the proceeds of a sock drive for residents at the local homeless shelter. From the number of cartons she was hauling, it seemed the drive was a big success.

Then there’s Ben, who with some friends founded a small learning center for children with dyslexia. I often see him tending to the shrubs and other plantings around it. If you have the time, he will happily give you a tour of the center. His wife, Marie, coordinates drives to provide backpacks and school supplies for children whose families can’t afford them. A couple of times a year she also organizes chicken and chips fundraisers for the local women’s club.

Deanne crochets plastic supermarket bags into waterproof sleeping mats for people who are living on the street, and Cathy organizes book sales to raise scholarship funds to help local kids attend college.

If I didn’t know better, it probably wouldn’t occur to me that these people were leaders. They look like regular people, doing regular things, just like you and me. I see them in the library and the supermarket, at the mall and at the movies.

What is it that makes Shari, Ben, Marie, Deanne and Cathy leaders? Do they have experience as corporate CEOs, government officials or college professors? Were they part of some special leadership training or apprenticeship program? Nope. Ben is a retired certified public accountant, and Marie stayed home to raise their sons. Shari is a nurse. Cathy is an administrative assistant. Deanne’s health issues prevent her from working more than a few hours a week as a lunch aide in a nearby school.

What makes them special is this: they choose to be leaders. They see a need and choose to do something about it. They don’t waste time worrying about limitations—their own or anyone else’s—and they certainly don’t pay any mind to what rewards they may or may not receive for their efforts. Their choice to lead is grounded in gratitude for the ability to do something that helps someone else.

Take a look around your own neighborhood. I guarantee that you are surrounded by community leaders who are every bit as committed as my local aquaintances. Do you have youth sports in your town? Community leaders started those programs. A food pantry? A community theater program? A newly revitalized public playground?

These things don’t happen by themselves. Someone, at some point, saw a need and decided to do something about it. Granted, once they made the decision, they followed up with persistent effort. That makes them great workers. But it’s the decision, the choice to lead, that turned them into leaders.

Now I have a question for you: Are you a leader? The answer is as easy as saying, “Yes!”


Dennis C. Miller is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach, executive search consultant, author and keynote speaker. He is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group, with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Miller is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and leadership performance coach. Miller can be reached at [email protected].

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