The Path to Leadership—It’s Rarely What You Plan

by Jennifer Miller on March 31, 2014

in Leadership

 Mu Sochua quote vital voices

What do a peace activist from Northern Ireland, a former sex trafficking victim, a Somalian parliamentarian and an Israeli teacher have in common? All are women who stepped forward to ignite astonishing change in their respective parts of the world. And, in their moment of choice to speak up, they had no formal leadership title or authority to do so.

Even though lacking titled power, they took action.

“Leaders don’t wait for the perfect moment to make changes.”

This, from a keynote speech at a conference I attended last week for Wiley Publishing’s Workplace Learning Solutions division.

The speaker was Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization that identifies, trains and invests in emerging women leaders. Alyse shared with us stories of working with women from across the globe, many of whom come from the poorest and most dangerous parts of the world.

Alyse, whose book Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World, highlights women who led transformational change in unimaginable circumstances, is certainly inspirational. There was an aspirational element in Alyse’s message as well: if we examine the themes embedded in these leaders’ stories, we can learn lessons and apply them to our life.

Alyse outlined five leadership traits gleaned from observing and working with the many extraordinary women that Vital Voices supports, calling them the “common threads” that are woven into the fabric of these women’s leadership lives. She says that “while Vital Voices learned about the power of these leadership traits from women, this is not a model of, by or for women only. Rather, we believe that this model is potent for everyone in today’s world.”

These five traits are:

  • A driving force or sense of mission
  • Strong roots in the community
  • An ability to connect across lines that divide
  • Bold ideas brought to life with bold action
  • Paying it forward

Alyse Nelson gave an impassioned speech, highlighting travails that most of us can barely imagine, let alone consider stepping forth to change. In the interest in of sharing Alyse’s message, and also to provide inspiration for all of us to step up and lead (in whatever way we feel able) here are snippets of notes that I took last Thursday:


“The greatest leaders in the world step forward, not for the power, but because they want to make a profound difference.”


“The most successful leaders know the only way to affect successful change is to do so through their communities.”


“Leaders are beacons of belief in what is possible; they see possibilities where others see problems.”


“When a woman gets invested in an idea, she wants to share that idea. Women understand that power actually expands in the moment when it’s shared.”


“A person’s path to leadership is rarely perfectly planned out.”


What is your leadership path? Take a step back and reflect: when have you stepped up and made a difference? Is now the time, even if it isn’t perfectly planned out?


Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. (Browsing is free.) Hey, a girl’s gotta cover her blogging habit somehow, right?

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