There is something about the word “leader” that has always made me vaguely uncomfortable. Maybe it is because of the implied pejorative. If you aren’t a leader, you must be a “follower.” And following is inferior to leading, right?
But really, what’s important is that change happens when people care and act.
Sometimes more hands make all the difference. Sometimes one set of strong shoulders is what it takes. Quiet, loud, sweet, passionate, brash, timid… anyone, everyone, can be a change-maker. Leading and following get mingled and blurred when people put their minds and hearts to work.
In the small towns and cities that make up our region, there are countless people engaged in brainstorming and decision-making, on the job and as volunteers, bringing the elbowgrease that makes our world healthier, safer, and more just. There are individuals devoted to making a difference on one issue – improving the school lunch program or saving a historic building – and there are people working to strengthen whole systems.
Leadership Upper Valley, a program of Vital Communities, fosters civic engagement by providing a curriculum that connects sectors and scales of influence. Their Leadership Institute brings together Upper Valley residents in existing and evolving leadership roles once a month for a ten month period. More than 100 Upper Valley residents, including UVLT’s Pete Helm, are graduates of the Leadership Institute.
Last night Leadership Upper Valley honored 14 women they deemed “Heroes and Leaders.” I am humbled to have been one of those honored. It was awesome to stand with 13 amazing, accomplished women, among a large group of people whose devotion to good work is unflagging and inspiring. Sara Kobylenski, an honoree last night, has spoken of “sitting at the table of change.” That table has room for all. Sometimes it’s a quiet place of independent determination. Sometimes it’s full of raucous laughter and fellowship. Last night there was a whole room full of tables! Thank you, Vital Communities and Leadership Upper Valley!
I’ve been more often a follower than a leader and I’m not ashamed, but lucky. Lucky to live here, where people I greatly admire make a difference every day, embracing intractable challenges with spirit, brilliance, generosity and camaraderie. They are my heroes, my friends, my teachers.
You, reader, are part of this too — reaching forward, reaching out, making and re-making opportunities, acting in the moment and for the future. Leading or following or side by side – it’s all good! Pull up your chair to the table of change.
Learn more about the Leadership Institute here. As of last night, enrollment was nearly full for this year’s class which runs September – June.