Leadership isn’t an aspiration but an expectation

2012-09-23T15:23:00Z Leadership isn’t an aspiration but an expectationBy Gail Zurek Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana

Being honored with the 20 Under 40 award is an amazing and humbling experience. When I first received the call I was going to be honored, I was overwhelmed and frankly confused. I told the reporter that it was great to be recognized for my work but frankly, I had so much more work to do. The reporter just laughed and said, "exactly." I agreed to the interview and award but had no idea the impact it would make on me.

Recognized with 19 other leaders whose actions affect the lives of so many in direct and deliberate ways was and is inspiring. My class, like this year’s class, is full of stories of bravery, selflessness, passion and dedication. Award recipients saw a way to impact our community and had the courage to act. At the awards dinner, I was thankful to meet so many. I enjoyed hearing more about their work, passion, and came to understand I wasn’t the only one who knew our work wasn’t done. As I spoke with others, we agreed this was wonderful encouragement to keep doing great things, to keep leading. Leaving the dinner humbled, I knew I had lots of work to do.

The award was a great conversation piece. At meetings, events and even the grocery store, I was asked about being named one of the 20 Under 40. Why was I so passionate about local business? As a Southern California native, do you really love this region? What did I really think of regional leadership? What does it mean to be a leader under the age of 40? Did I always want to be a leader? That last question was asked by a college student who genuinely wanted to know if leadership was something I had set out “to do." She admired my work, my service and my approach to leadership. She wanted to know more about my desire to be a leader. And I was left asking, was leadership something to which I had aspired?

Leadership isn’t an aspiration but an expectation. This is how I was raised and how I strive to raise my sons. I was taught when we see a way to make an impact, to improve the lives of others; we must act and encourage others to action. I watched my father bring people together and make a difference in big and small ways. His father, my grandpa served and lead from all sorts of positions be it military service and elected office. The unifying thread was their bravery, bold action and ability to inspire others. I grew up wanting to be like them. I want to be brave, strong and have the ability to bring a group of people together to make an impact. My family, and I hope my community, expects I will act, be bold and inspire others to do the same.

“So," my college student friend asked, “why don’t we see more leaders?” The answer is twofold. First, we need to do a better job of recognizing leaders, big and small, new and accomplished. The 20 Under 40 does that. I am personally thankful for the award and encouraged to see the Times commitment to continue this recognition of young leaders. Regionally these awards are important but recognition must be done other ways as well. A simple note goes a long way. I received a note from a colleague after the award and that note is a source of encouragement. Leaders need recognition and encouragement. When you see a great leader, nominate them for this (and other) leadership awards but also send them a quick note thanking them.

The second reason we don’t see more leaders is leadership isn’t easy. Great people fail to fulfill their leadership duty most often by letting small obstacles chip away at their vision. Self-doubt is masked as the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. Great people fail to be great leaders simply because they don’t act. If we have a great idea, if we know others who do, we need to encourage bold action. If you know someone who has a great idea, tell them. If you know someone who could lead a group to make an impact, tell them you support them.

I love the encouragement this award has given me but more so I appreciate the responsibility to keep leading, encourage and recognize other leaders.

Gail Zurek is a Class of 2011 20 Under 40 honoree.

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