Leaders in Profile: Do Good Well
When we met 10 years ago as high school students at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, we had already taken the first few steps on our leadership journey. Nina, from Vienna, West Virginia, had launched American Cancer Society Teens, a nationwide network that empowered student volunteers of the American Cancer Society to recognize their potential as leaders and work together to develop creative solutions for improving health in their communities. Jennifer, from Lincolnwood, Illinois, was recognized for her innovative work to help shelter residents on their path to secure employment and financial independence. Common interests drew us together, but we soon found we were kindred spirits with similar goals, worldviews, and aspirations for change. This new friendship galvanized us, inspiring a new commitment that would compel us to reach our ultimate goal of “enabling others to act.”
At Prudential, we were surrounded by inspiring middle and high school students from around the U.S. who had led innovative school or community clubs, nonprofits, activist campaigns, and various other efforts aimed at solving social problems and creating lasting community change. For us, these peers “modeled the way”—they established standards of excellence and served as sterling examples we hoped to emulate in our own efforts. Moreover, what we recognized at this event was the enormous potential of collaboration, of uniting as a generation of young leaders to propagate the values of community leadership, public service, and social responsibility.
But how? We brainstormed ideas to bring together these young leaders: a website to share our projects, a speaking series at schools, a campaign promoting student leadership, etc. These ideas had merit but didn’t seem quite right at the time. A few years passed and we settled into our lives as college students. It was at that time that a project was suggested to us—writing a how-to book on leadership for students. We loved it. Here was an opportunity to share the real-life experience we had collected with people who wanted to make an impact but didn’t know where to start. Convinced that a practical, fun, and honest guidebook to social change was needed for today’s generation of students and young professionals, we set out to tackle this challenge. We spent months putting our thoughts on paper and sent our book proposal to more than 100 agents and publishers.
Our hard work resulted in a drawer and inbox full of rejection letters. It wasn’t just one failure, but letter after letter trickling in over the course of months saying “no.” But the rejections—each one inducing a heart-dropping disappointment—gave us a reason to rethink our approach. We believed in our mission, but our execution needed work. To “challenge the process,” we had to learn from our mistakes. But first, we needed to identify what these mistakes were.
The project needed to “inspire a shared vision.” We realized that if we were going to promote collaboration and bringing out the best in others, then first we needed to do that ourselves. Drawing upon our original high school goal of uniting young leaders, we approached the peers we most admired (including William Hwang, whose work starting the educational social enterprise InnoWorks you read about in The Student Leadership Challenge book!), and worked together with them as a team. In our own experience, our peers have been some of our biggest role models and mentors. Joining forces to create a tool for other young leaders produced a vibrant spirit of community that we hope only gets stronger with time.
We also realized that we hadn’t presented a unifying message. We had a number of ideas, but they were disconnected. What did our readers need? Reflecting on our own community work, we recalled that we stumbled frequently and often success was only found through trial-and-error. We realized an actual framework for action was a critical missing component of the equation to “do good well.” This led us to create a simple three-step method for social innovation that is grounded in both personal experience and academic research on innovation in business, nonprofits, community action, and leadership. The Method is built on three key ideas:
- Do What Works
- Work Together
- Make It Last
Within each step are four strategies to employ to meet your goals of effective leadership and sustainable change. This method provides readers with an overarching philosophy and a simple take-away message that can be applied to all aspects of leading change.
We had identified and fixed our execution mistakes, but we still did not have a way to get this work into your hands. We continued to pitch and promote the idea over the course of several years as graduate students. At many points, the logical decision was to give up. In fact, even those close to us saw the stress and disappointment we were feeling, and encouraged us to move on. Then a fantastic leader gave us hope—Erin Null, editor of The Student Leadership Challenge. It was Erin who “encouraged the heart.” She saw the potential in this project and her confidence gave us a renewed energy to push forward. She was also a mentor, giving honest and valuable feedback about what we were doing well and, more importantly, not so well.
After an arduous journey, we’re excited to share with you Do Good Well: Your Guide to Leadership, Action, and Social Innovation. What we’ve learned from this process is that The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are everywhere. And as important as it is to exhibit those qualities yourself as a leader, it is just as critical to see them in others, and to be driven and inspired by other people’s leadership. We certainly were!
Nina Vasan has been honored as one of ‘America’s Top 10 Youth Volunteers,’ a Young Adult Winner of the National Caring Award, a Girl Scouts National Young Woman of Distinction, and one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women.
Jennifer Przybylo has dedicated her life to service and has been recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, the United States Senate Youth Program, and the Toyota Community Scholars Program.
Category: Success Stories