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Defining leadership and sharing stories

Stan Soderstrom | Aug 07, 2019

Kiwanis International Executive Director Stan Soderstrom

A mayor is a leader. That’s pretty obvious, right? Mayors, directors, managers — certain titles and positions make the people who hold them leaders by definition. 

Sometimes, what’s less obvious is how we should define leadership itself. What set of skills and experience mark someone as a leader — as the kind of person who should occupy key roles? 

That’s a question I often think about when members of Kiwanis “become” leaders in their communities. After all, many of them aren’t really becoming leaders — they’re taking the leadership qualities they’ve developed and already use into roles that suit them well. And many of them do it even if they haven’t held such official titles before. 

Sally Wilson For me, Sally Longo Wilson is a terrific example. She is a member of her local Kiwanis club in Osceola, Arkansas. And since January, she has been the mayor of Osceola.  

Now, if you measure potential strictly by progress from position to position — from title to title — that level of achievement might have seemed to come out of the blue. But if you measure leadership by personal involvement, civic engagement and a knack for making a larger impact, the words “Mayor Sally Wilson” make a lot of sense. 

Her previous roles clearly indicated the kind of leadership that a mayor needs — if you know how to look at them that way. She has been a business owner. She has been a club member, club officer and division lieutenant governor with Kiwanis. And she’s a mom.  

In other words, she has done things that require vision, discipline, tenacity and more. She was cut out for the kind of impact she’s making. She even fulfills one of my own key definitions of a leader: She creates more leaders. 

Her children have started their own journey of service and leadership as members of Key Club, the Kiwanis program for high school students. (And if anyone knows the importance of such engagement, it’s Sally’s family. Her husband, Ralph Wilson, is a longtime Kiwanian and a past president of the Kiwanis International Foundation.) I’d be surprised if other people, children and adults aren’t also inspired by her.

Sally Wilson is just one of several Kiwanians I’ve met who have stories like this — an evolution from one kind of leadership into another, regardless of how different the names for these roles look at first glance.

And personal stories are important. They inspire. They show what’s possible. They reveal opportunities we hadn’t previously considered, and they nudge us toward the ones that have nagged at us for a while but perhaps also scare us a little.  

Share your story. And recognize the stories that have something to say to you. They’re a key tool for sustaining a vision of leadership — and for creating more leaders after us.

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