Opinion: People make the difference in leadership journey

Since 2010, GeorgiaForward has been bringing people, organizations and businesses together that do not normally interact and having them focus on creative ways to improve the future of Georgia. The 2018 GeorgiaForward Forum continued this tradition. The one-day event brought statewide thought leaders together to talk about opportunities and challenges of engaging young leaders in communities across the state.

Former Secretary of State Cathy Cox, now Dean of Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, opened the 2018 GeorgiaForward Forum by recalling the factors and people who encouraged her to take each step in her journey of leadership. She shared stories about her experiences from Bainbridge to Atlanta to Young Harris to Macon. Regardless of what part of Georgia or what size community she was living in, she continuously had supporters and mentors who identified her as a strong leader and helped pave the way for her to keep moving forward in her career.

“People” was the common thread throughout the day. From Cathy’s opening keynote to insights from the Forum’s panelists, everyone seemed to have had someone who believed in them. They had someone who saw their potential and advised them as they climbed their career’s jungle gym – because we all know it’s not really a ladder.

I have been blessed to have these types of people in my life from Day 1 who constantly encourage me to think bigger, believe in my abilities and push me to take great leaps of faith. These “cheerleaders” can be found in any community and in any part of the state. Sometimes they are more “seasoned” leaders; sometimes they are watching you from afar. It is important to get to know the leaders who are already at the table and learn from them.

One conversation during the Forum was about the idea of young leaders coming into a community and trying to take over versus learning from the existing, more-experienced leaders and making a transition into leadership. I put a lot of value on the latter. The leaders who are currently in place, and may have been there for a while, more than likely have battle stories to share and lessons learned to pass on. Taking time to listen to them and soak up that institutional knowledge will not only make the community stronger but will make you a better leader. And you may find a cheerleader for life who will encourage you along the way.

GeorgiaForward intentionally works with both young leaders and seasoned leaders in communities across the state through our leadership action program Young Gamechangers. Many Young Gamechanger alumni, of which there are more than 300 in Georgia, were part of the conversation at this year’s forum. As we emphasize in this program, the success of the community and of you as a leader, comes from taking time to listen to existing leaders, learn what they have tried, what has worked and what has not. This advice has also rung true in my personal leadership journey.

Kris Vaughn is the executive director of GeorgiaForward. She lives in Monroe County with her husband and daughter.