Since graduating from college fifteen years ago, I have enjoyed unexpected success.
As a leader and fundraiser, my teams and I smashed through success rates in donor retention, total and annual revenue, and participation in giving.
We closed out capital campaigns and giving challenges. We increased one annual fund sustainably by more than 30 percent.
Personally, I’ve earned seven prestigious awards, served as a speaker at more than 30 conferences nation-wide, and published two books with a third on the way.
I served as a volunteer or board member in nearly a dozen different roles, launched two small businesses, was made an Executive Director before 35, and Vice President before 40.
I’m not bragging. In fact, I feel silly sharing that, but it matters because statistically, it should not have happened. In fact, the only reason that stuff matters is because it paints a picture of overcoming odds.
I was classified at-risk in middle school. My family fell below the poverty line. I faced several emotionally-debilitating challenges in my youth. I only went to college because I had a very persistent guidance counselor who steered me toward the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Once in, people went above and beyond to ensure I graduated.
I’ve seen the statistics play out. Many of my early peers are still stuck in poverty or grappling with addiction. Some have died or landed in jail. Education is certainly the great equalizer but what we do with that education matters. How we live out our leadership through our professional lives determines how far we can go.
The secret to success:
So how does one go from at-risk to successful professional? (Personally, I credit faith first and foremost, but what else?) There are a multitude of ingredients but the two most important words are this: humility and collaboration. I believe these two behaviors underline every win I ever experienced.
When we are born onto this earth we know nothing in terms of learned information – not a single word. This earth is a foreign place. I’ll never forget bumping into my brother-in-law Tim at the store. His infant son Gage sat in the car seat in the cart. The entire time Tim and I talked Gage stared intently at my lips. I could see his brain working as he watched us form words. He was learning language right before my very eyes.
Somewhere along the line, we risk devaluing the learning process. Every effort should begin as Gage did – watching, learning, assessing, absorbing. At the root of learning is humility. I know some things but not everything. From a place of humility, I open myself up to the information around me. I see and hear things differently. I value differing opinions. I am receptive to input which allows me to grow and expand my understanding. Just like Gage had to learn before he could speak, as professionals we must learn before we can act.
Collaboration – my second favorite word. Studies show that companies with diverse leadership teams and boards are more successful and experience higher revenues. Diversity of perspectives and skill sets leads to a more well-rounded operation. I can only accomplish so much on my own. As we draw others in, we expand our capability. We also bring new and important information to bear on the challenges we face. Other staff members, departments, community members, age groups, cultures – all of these can lead to better solutions than those created in a vacuum.
What it all means:
Fifteen years ago, I was an insecure, broken person with absolutely no thought about my future except that I liked to write. Today, my life has purpose, meaning, and impact. I am so grateful for the path laid out in front of me and those who led the way, and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that leading from a place of humility and inviting other voices in to the process opens possibilities beyond our imagination. In fact, I dare say some of our world’s biggest challenges can be overcome using the formula of humility and collaboration.
In his text The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, astronaut Ron Garan said, “A partner’s different perspective is valuable, but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one’s pride at the door.”
Collaboration and humility are hard work but when enacted, change lives and communities.
Pamela Witter is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Email me at BeASeedPlanter@outlook.com.