Inspiring a Vision for the Generations

Inspiring a Vision for the Generations

How can one nonprofit leader impact multiple generations?  Through inspiring a shared vision, of course! And Karen Routt (below) of Indianapolis-based nonprofit School on Wheels is one outstanding example of just such a leader who is making a difference now and for generations to come. 

School on Wheels provides one-on-one tutoring and educational advocacy for school-aged children experiencing homelessness. Through two key programs—Tutors in Action and Ignite Learning—the organization equips these children with the educational tools necessary to achieve success in life and to break the cycle of homelessness. Tutors in Action uses nearly 400 volunteers, and partners with nine shelter locations and four public schools to provide academic intervention programs to students in grades K–12 up to four times each week. Ignite Learning is a program dedicated to engaging the parents of these students, helping them to become the best advocates for their child’s education.

Karen was recently introduced to The Leadership Challenge® when she joined with other aspiring nonprofit leaders to attend a Masters Give Back program held in Indianapolis, which included several activities that helped participants explore The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. During one activity, in particular, conducted during the Inspire a Shared Vision portion of the program, Karen shared a story about a frustrated School on Wheels tutor who didn’t feel she was having the level of impact she’d hoped for on the young person she was tutoring. To illustrate to the group how she helped her colleague turn the situation around, Karen chose an image from the Visual Explorer card deck that was supplied for the activity that pictured a drop of water hitting the surface of a pond. She then shared the message she gave the tutor: 

"Our vision is very much like a drop of water hitting the surface of a pond; we have to look beyond the initial splash to truly see how the ripples the drop creates fan out. There are times we are able to see the immediate impact of our work, like the initial splash from a water drop. Of course, this is gratifying. However, there are other times when the impact of our work may not be realized for months, years, or even a generation. That's OK. Our vision is important and viable, and the impact is as meaningful when achieved at the outermost ripple as it is at the initial splash point—even if we don’t get to see or experience that impact ourselves. Stay the course, and believe that what you do matters in the lives of our children, today and for generations to come!"

We all were deeply touched. Few people tend to make a positive and conscientious effort to help others. Sometimes the needs of the few are overlooked by the needs of the many. Most impending problems manage to give you an indication that something is amiss before they become unmanageable. Karen and her team work to resolve the seemingly unmanageable education problems of children experiencing homelessness by keeping their eyes open and firmly set on their vision, and more importantly, by keeping their hearts forever open to those whom they serve. We found their power of caring contagious!

We in The Leadership Challenge community must have faith that what we are doing is making a difference. We need to know that the time we spend with people will have an impact on their lives after they go through The Leadership Challenge experience. While it is always the leader's choice as to whether or not to apply what they learn during the experience, it's our role to share the experience with open ears and open hearts. By demonstrating our caring and belief in them, we can empower leaders to Inspire a Shared Vision with the same power and conviction as Karen…and that, too, will have an impact felt by generations to come.

Bill Mugavin, CPLP and a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is a consultant at FlashPoint, a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge committed to ensuring that leaders learn practical skills and improve leadership effectiveness—and that the organizations they serve see a strong return on investment. Bill can be reached at or at FlashPoint

Cheryl Johnson, Assistant Director of Human Resources, Employee Development at Santa Clara University (SCU), has been using The Leadership Challenge as a facilitator and coach with SCU leaders since 2008.  A Certified Master-in-Training working toward certification in both facilitation and coaching, she can be reached at     

Larry Murphy, Jr., a Certified Facilitator and Certified Master-In-Training of The Leadership Challenge, is a training specialist at the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General. A 30-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he has over 20 years of leadership instructor experience and can be reached at


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