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Find Your Voice and Take the Lead: A Student’s Guide to Public Speaking

CHAPTER TWO - Leadership and You

“I say if it’s going to be done, let’s do it. Let’s not put it in the hands of fate. Let’s not put it in the hands of someone who doesn’t know me. I know me best. Then take a breath and go ahead.”

–Anita Baker

Keynote: You can either put up with things as they are, or you can be a part of changing them. The decision is up to you. If you decide for change, you will need to
take the lead, and that entails a certain mindset that puts you on the path to success. It begins with having a goal and making a plan to reach it. And it includes developing your leadership skills.

When you think of a leader, who comes to mind?
Often when we think of leadership, we think of presidents like Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, who led in times of crisis; of activists, like Dr. King, who forwarded the course of freedom; of business leaders, like Steve Jobs, who created cutting-edge companies; or perhaps of great coaches, like Phil Jackson, who more than once turned a group of talented but difficult players into a world-class team.

I think of leaders I have met along the way: Jim Preston, former CEO of Avon Products, who took the lead and turned a faltering company around; Alison Diaz, educator, who saw the need for better education in underserved Los Angeles school districts and started Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, California, which now ranks among the nation’s best; or student Jordan Howard, who began in high school to spread the word about greening the environment to students all around the world. I have seen firsthand how these individuals had the courage and conviction to stand up for what they believed. They have made a difference.

Many others, whose names we may never know, have seen the problems in their communities, their schools, their towns, and have advocated for change, leading others to turn situations around. As I said in the opening, leadership begins right where you are, solving the problems and issues in your class, your school, your sports team, your community. And you are needed.

What does it take to be a leader?
Many books have been written about leadership and many definitions given of what makes a great leader. My favorite concentrates on the qualities of thought that a leader needs to express. I call it the leadership mindset.

A leader must have:

1. A goal
2. A plan that includes practical steps to achieve that goal
3. The ability to communicate the goal and persuade other people to help achieve the goal
4. The persistence to lead step by step even through tough challenges until the goal becomes a reality
5. Above all, leaders must care

Let’s look at what it takes to be a leader

· A goal: Leaders need to know where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. Why is this important? Just knowing that there is a problem is not enough; you have to have a solution if you are going to get results.
· A plan: Leaders need to be able to outline the practical steps needed to achieve their goals and reach their destinations. Why is this important? You need to know what must be done in order to make your goal a reality.
· The ability to communicate: Why is this so important for a leader? A leader could have the best goal in the world, but if he or she can’t tell people about it, no one will ever know. It will just remain an unfulfilled wish. And, if a leader can’t persuade people to act, they won’t take the first step to reach the goal. They won’t follow the plan.
· Persistence: Why do you think leaders need to be persistent? Have you ever tried to persuade someone to do something new? How about persuading your parents to listen to your music, or your grandmother to use a smart phone? You may have noticed that many people resist change. A leader will definitely need patience and persistence to help people change their minds, take action, stay focused on the task, and reach the destination.
· Above all, leaders must care: Why must leaders care? As someone once pointed out to me, if you don’t care about what you’re advocating, why on earth should anyone else? People know when you really care from the bottom of your heart, and they respond.