To Want to Struggle for Shared Aspirations

To Want to Struggle for Shared Aspirations

Life-Changing Stores That Inspire

Imagine working daily to make this world a better place, being dependent upon a volunteer staff and donated funds. Imagine the challenge of attracting and retaining those many volunteers while constantly asking for funds in a city with only 4,500 year-round residents. Although this small community might add another 9,000 people in the summer months, most are second-homeowners and summer renters who rarely contribute to local charities and almost never volunteer. Get the picture?

For leaders of the 18 nonprofit organizations who participated in our inaugural Masters Give Back offering of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop in South Haven, Michigan, sometimes it is a very real struggle just to keep the doors open. Yet despite the challenges, this community of leaders is fueled by the struggle for a shared aspiration: serving others.

Like many of us, The Leadership Challenge® has given me opportunities to work with great clients all over the world. I can never show enough gratitude for my years of being one of many voices in our community unleashing the leader in everyone. And now, thanks to the wonderful support of Wiley through the Masters Give Back program I was given a chance to pay it back, if only a little, with the opportunity to serve those that serve my city. With additional help from the Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation and the city government, we put together all the resources we needed to give this group of nonprofit leaders our very best effort.

In the words of Jeffrey Dick, Pastor at First Congregational Church in South Haven, it was a transformative experience that changed lives and was destined to change the community as well. Writing a letter-to-the-editor of the local newspaper following his participation in the workshop, here is some of what Jeff had to say:

Our two-day The Leadership Challenge® Workshop was designed to help leaders better understand their role and to work on crafting a plan for the future. This was a wonderful experience and I want to share three takeaways:
  1. The first was something I had not thought of before attending but should have: 18 individuals from a variety of nonprofits gathering together created a unique community. We came from a wide range of organizations—people working with seniors to those working with children, from the arts community to animal shelters, from museums to churches. (Note: The mayor of South Haven and two program leaders from Notre Dame and Northwestern were also in attendance.)

    While our purposes were quite different, there were many places where we could connect. And it was these connections that were unexpected and, yet, most welcomed. Lots of networking was taking place and some of these connections may have never happened without this time together. That bonus was a reminder of the importance of getting together with others to share ideas. New possibilities arose within this community.
  2. The second learning was found in the name of our workshop, The Leadership Challenge®. As our program facilitator, Michael Neiss, would remind us, it is not The Leadership Cake Walk but a challenge. So true. All too often we assume that leadership comes naturally, is easy, or something you can just do. True leadership is much more of an art and a challenge than anything else. It takes work, focus, energy, and a commitment. It requires learning all the time and being able to evaluate. It means being able to ask for feedback as well as give it.

    Like me, many of my fellow attendees came from very small organizations with limited staff. Thus, some of us were both leaders and managers. These are two very different roles in an organization. What I found helpful is that I became more aware of the difference between managing and leading, the need to keep a focus on how I lead and communicate effectively, and to use the tools of leadership in more intentional ways. Being a leader takes work and focus. I won’t take things for granted. I will devote more time and thought to the process and keep a clear focus on where I am leading my organization.
  3. This leads me to the third takeaway that remains with me. A title doesn’t make a person a leader. Whether in business, a community group or organization, or even elected office. A leader needs to be able to bring people together to craft a vision and enable others to own it for themselves. Good leaders hold true to their values and the values of their organizations; these are clearly seen in the life and work of that person. 
Our communities, our schools, our organizations, our government on a local, state and national level need strong leaders—individuals able to craft a shared vision that can move us forward to better our shared world. Part of that process is good communication; part is a willingness to bring people together. Welcoming and encouraging feedback as well as offering good feedback is important, as is showing appreciation and being willing to learn. All of these are marks of a strong leader.

In the coming months there will be elections on many levels, from civic groups to governmental elections. As you consider who to vote for, I hope you will look for individuals who will strive to be good leaders, individuals who you would truly want to follow, people who set an example worth following and inspire others to do their very best. Our world needs more leaders like that.

Legacies come in all different shapes and sizes. I know my small city of South Haven is better for the time this wonderful group of nonprofit leaders and I shared, and the lessons we learned. I encourage all my fellow Certified Masters to take advantage of the Masters Give Back Program. It is truly work that matters. Thanks to the entire Wiley team for this gift. And most of all, thanks to those who serve the community by their daily struggle for the shared aspiration of making life better for all of us.

Michael Neiss is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and a recognized leadership expert with a decidedly practical approach to leadership and management development. A consultant, educator and coach, he can be reached at



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