This last weekend I was volunteering at the HOBY Virginia leadership conference. HOBY, which is short for Hugh O’Brian Youth, is an international nonprofit that works to inspire and empower tomorrow’s leaders today through a weekend jam-packed with corny but extremely fun cheers, team building activities, inspiring lectures and community service projects. I went as an ambassador in 2010 and have returned almost every year as a volunteer staff. HOBY did not just change my life, it saved my life. HOBY empowered me to fix my problems, rather than remove myself from my problems and I am sure many more alum can say the same. HOBY molded me into the leader that I am today. But I kept asking myself this question during the entire seminar: What exactly is a leader?
If you Google the word leader you will see mostly pictures that look like this.
If someone were to ask you what a leader looks like, most likely you would list off a bunch of famous leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Barack Obama. But what made them leaders? How did they gain that title, Leader? HOBY enlightened me this weekend. There were two things HOBY showed me about every leader. First, they all sacrificed something. Second, they were most often behind the scenes.
Because HOBY is a nonprofit, it runs on volunteerism, so everyone who staffed at the seminar was a volunteer who sacrificed their time, energy and sleep. There were a number of staff there that had other things on their calendar that required their attention; however, they sacrificed whatever it was to be at the seminar. Their sacrifice meant that a group of ambassadors were able to have a life changing weekend that empowered them to be catalysts for change in their community. Now looking at the examples of famous leader I previously listed, they too sacrificed a lot. Nelson Mandela sacrificed his life, his family and his freedom in order to lead his people to freedom. Mother Theresa was a nun, which is practically the embodiment of sacrifice. Barack Obama sacrificed his family, time and privacy in order to be the leader of the free world for eight years. Lesson one: All gain in this world, whether it is self-gain or the gain of others, is obtained through sacrifice. Leadership in its truest sense is birthed from sacrifice.
Now due to the culture of HOBY everyone is celebrating everyone. There really isn’t much room to hide at this seminar. Someone sneezed this year and the ambassadors cheered for them. That was really random, but I just wanted to give you an example as to how hard it is for someone to stay low on the radar at HOBY. Despite everyone being in the lime light at one point in time at the seminar, there were many that were constantly working behind the scenes, making sure this seminar ran smoothly. If it wasn’t for those individuals doing the behind the scenes work, the seminar might be able to happen, but wouldn’t be as magical and life-changing for the ambassadors as it was. Likewise, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa would not have been as successful if it had not been for Nelson Mandela and his team working tirelessly behind closed doors and even in the corners and shadows of prison on Robbin Island. Mother Theresa would not have been the revered leader she was and still is if it wasn’t for the countless hours she spent locked up in a chapel praying and interceding for the hurt and hungry. Barack Obama would not have had such a well-noted two terms in the White House if it wasn’t for him and his cabinet working tirelessly to change things up and make things happen. Lesson two: It’s great to have the spotlight on you, but it’s what you’re doing behind the scenes that make you a leader.
I watched as these ambassadors quickly broke out of their shells and morphed into world leaders in just a weekend and briefly pondered how this happened? That one kid would barely talk to me Friday morning, now it’s Sunday morning and we have to practically restrain him from performing cheers and volunteering to answer questions so we can get on with the program. So what caused such a transformation? Answer: That ambassador, just as all the other ambassadors had a facilitator, an individual that sacrificed their time and effort, working behind the scenes to push them into their fullest potential. Moreover, there was staff behind that facilitator ensuring they were keeping pace with their ambassadors and had all the guidance and assistance possible. Much like how Mandela or Obama had a cabinet working behind the scenes helping them lead their people to success, freedom, etc.
So by now you may be wondering, “am I a leader?” Great question. Are you willing to sacrifice your time, energy, and possibly life for a cause? If so, you are a leader. Are you willing to work behind the scenes possibly the entire time with no acknowledgement or appraisal? If so, then you are a leader. Most importantly are you willing to serve, whether it be an individual, audience or cause? If so, then you are a leader. It’s not who you are that makes you a leader, it’s your actions. I understand that when someone thinks of a leader they think of the red fish in the picture leading the school of blue fish, but in reality a true leader looks like this
Any inspirational speaker will say, “Go! Lead! Be the empowering leader you were created to be.” However, today as a mediocre blogger I say Go! Serve! Be the catalyst willing to risk everything for your cause. I believe in you and I support you.