The 2023-24 Kiwanis Children’s Fund president and Kiwanis Youth Programs chair offer insight into leadership now and in the future. 

Interviews by Julie Saetre 

Amy Zimmerman (above left) and Karin Church (above right) set their sights on leadership roles as children and began their leadership journeys through Kiwanis Service Leadership Programs. Now Church is the 2023-24 Kiwanis Youth Programs board chair, and Zimmerman is 2023-24 Kiwanis Children’s Fund board president. As they begin their terms, they share insights about becoming and remaining an effective leader — and offer advice to those following in their footsteps. 

When you were the age of our Key Club/CKI members, what were your future goals? Did you see yourself in the leadership roles you’ve held in your career?  

Amy Zimmerman: In eighth grade, I remember telling my teacher that I wanted to be president of the United States and a principal of a grade school. I was young, adventurous and ambitious, generally assuming leadership roles.  

In high school, I wanted to be president of my Key Club (I was) and an inspirational/motivational speaker. Heading to college, I wanted to be lieutenant governor for CKI (I did this) and join the track team. I did, but they didn’t have a women’s track team my freshman year, so I joined the men’s team. They had a women’s team later, and I joined that.  

Karin Church: Honestly, when I first joined Key Club in 10th grade, I joined for two reasons. First, I wasn’t an athlete or scholar, so Key Club offered a place where I could “fit.” We didn’t use the term “inclusivity” in the mid-1980s, but that’s what it was. Second, my dad was (and still is today) the Kiwanis advisor. As an underclassman, I had no certain goals, but by my senior year I knew I wanted to go to law school and work on Capitol Hill. 

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at that age? 

KC: Be open to opportunities and be yourself. My career path has taken so many twists and turns. That plan to work on Capitol Hill didn’t survive a single summer in Washington, D.C., and that law degree trained my mind and gave me analytical skills I use every day, but I never really practiced law. Most importantly, however, I would tell teenage (and young 20s) Karin to just be yourself. Adolescent life is hard, and it’s even more difficult if you are not comfortable in your own skin. 

AZ: Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right. It is OK to choose what you love. I tended to always brave the unknown path and have new adventures. You are capable of way more than you can even imagine. 

Do you remember a specific time when you realized, “I am a leader”? 

AZ: At work, I witnessed all sorts of individual leadership skills firsthand from various senior leaders and realized that what I had learned in Key Club and CKI was invaluable. I learned how to plan for and run effective meetings, how to listen to others’ ideas, respect, deal with different personalities, etc.

KC: I can tell you exactly the day I realized “I am a leader.” It was September 11, 2001. I had been a manager in my company for about a year, but during the 9/11 attacks, sitting 1,500 miles away from New York City, I realized, “I’m a leader, and I am responsible for my people.” I checked in with my shell-shocked staff to make sure they were physically and mentally all right and then went to work creating plans, buying flashlights and working to make sure my little office was prepared. 

What are the key traits today’s leaders need to be successful?  

KC: Today’s leaders need vision and empathy. Envisioning the future requires an honest critique of where your organization currently is, in terms of the assets you have (both monetary and personnel) as well as the strengths and challenges you face.

From a more personal standpoint, understanding a person, what motivates them, where their anxieties are helps address challenges and allows a leader to make the path forward easier for those she leads. If a team isn’t achieving a goal, empathy allows you to stand in their shoes and evaluate why. 

AZ: Communication, strategic thinking and planning, problem solving, active listening, trust, collaboration, courage, focus, flexibility, learning, passion, patience, building strong relationships, ethics. 

I love people, which seems very counterintuitive for what you might think of someone who has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In fact, I did a research paper in high school about what motivates people. Being a leader is not only about understanding yourself, but what motivates others — how they feel about working with you. 

How can our Service Leadership Programs’ members prepare themselves for leadership roles? 

AZ: SLPs are the best places to try new skills — like running for office or leading your club, a committee or even a project. Practice makes perfect, so the more ways that you practice and prepare for the future, the better. Attend leadership workshops like Key Leader, Global Leadership Certificate or offerings through your university. Offer to facilitate team-building exercises at your club meetings. Learn what works and what doesn’t — and reflect on why.  

Attend leadership courses such as Key Leader, read books, ask open-ended questions of people who you admire in leadership roles (Kiwanis, school, family, community). Go to the office with them. Pick up the phone.

KC: I believe the best thing these young people can do to prepare themselves for leadership roles is to abide by their commitments. Before undertaking a position or task, be honest with yourself and evaluate what is involved. It is OK to push yourself, but if you are not 100% committed to making something a priority, give someone else the opportunity. Remember, being committed to a project is different from succeeding with a project. Sometimes leaders get in over their heads, and that’s OK. Situations where you find you need to learn a new skill or ask for help make us grow. People who work with young leaders expect they will need training and help. What we don’t expect is for those young leaders to quit when things get stressful or your duties clash with social functions. You are neither leading nor growing when you quit on a commitment.  

What do you want to accomplish in your position during 2023-24? 

KC: The main goal for my service year is to provide good governance to Kiwanis Youth Programs staff as we navigate the challenges of continuing services and programs on an increasingly tight budget. Difficult decisions need to be made, and I hope the board can be a resource and sounding board.  

AZ: I’d like to bring the threads of the Kiwanis family together like a braid so we can make an even bigger impact. We can do this by advancing the mission of Kiwanis and the Children’s Fund. Together we can help clubs achieve more than they can independently. I want to help set a solid foundation for the next several years of raising awareness and money to support our Kiwanis family.