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The talent for rising to the occasion

Stan Soderstrom | May 02, 2019

Stan Soderstrom speaking at a Kiwanis International convention.

Leadership. You know it when you see it — even when you don’t define it as such.  

Of course, it’s easy to identify a leader by a title. But positional leadership — appointment or election to a set of powers and responsibilities — is just one form of leadership. And there are circumstances in which it can be the least important kind. 

As the executive director of Kiwanis International, I don’t say this out of modesty. Kiwanis is an international organization with a mission of service to children, so I know from experience that people often make a difference with acts of leadership that don’t result from titles and official duties.  

Sure, Kiwanis has governors, presidents and other positions at various levels. And they’re important. But we also have thousands of the other kinds of leaders the world needs.  

For example, there are everyday leaders — people who are role models for people of all ages, from kids to friends and neighbors.  

There are also leaders-by-example, people who are thrust into the role by circumstance, sometimes when they least expect it.  

At Kiwanis, they’re members whose best qualities emerged when their communities were struck by misfortune or natural disaster. Or they’re people whose day-to-day lives got a jolt of inspiration when they saw the chance to change lives or reach kids in need. 

I’ve met many of them myself. That’s why I’m excited by the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences regarding leadership in this post and others to come. Because one thing I’ve seen is that leadership isn’t an abstract concept. It’s a skill to be cultivated, a quality to be developed.  

At Kiwanis, we help develop leadership skills and principles. We place a particular priority on teaching these skills to young people — through service in Kiwanis clubs, but also in Kiwanis youth programs whose members range from elementary school through high school.  

When we help young people develop them, we help make their schools and sports leagues and social groups better. We make our communities better. 

We also make the future better. Because young people whose leadership potential is developed at an early age are more likely to come through when leadership is needed — both in their everyday lives and in extraordinary situations. 

After all, most people don’t know when they’ll be asked to lead. But people who recognize the opportunities and the responsibilities of leadership are the ones who rise to the occasion. In fact, they’re an inspiration. They fulfill what I consider the first job of a leader: to create more leaders.

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