Leadership is an ambiguous (and often over-used) word in the world of business and the non-profit sectors, in my humble opinion. If you're like me, you rush to find the latest-and-greatest books about leadership so you can learn something new to use in the office ("good to great," got it!). You research the top TED speakers for possible links to your industry and listen intently for nuggets of wisdom (check out Simon Sinek's "How Great Leaders Inspire Action"). Then, you use what you've learned to be a better boss. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but lately, I have been challenged to re-think how I define leadership and why I now believe I had it wrong.

I have triplets -- that's right, THREE incredible, gregarious, fun-loving, loud and fiercely independent children who were all born on the same day. Naturally, I see myself as the leader of this pack. I'm mom and what mom says goes! Cue obnoxious nod to all of our childhoods. Then, I look to the triplets -- two girls, one boy -- and watch the alpha personalities in play. My oldest triplet is very soft-hearted (i.e. she cries at every abused puppy PSA); the middle triplet is quick-witted and always the prankster and likes to play often by herself; and then there's the last one -- my son, my only boy! Gushing Mommy moment! He is beautiful -- long lashes, perfect lips, head full of curly brown hair. He is also severely autistic and non-verbal. My son watches his sisters with admiration and loves to get their attention for his nightly tickles and hide-and-go-seek games just when it's time to go to bed. They have a strong bond, and the girls protect him -- sometimes even from me when he does something he isn't supposed to do. It's taken me some time to recognize the person with the greatest leadership quality in my home is not me, it's him.

My son has made the biggest impact in our lives, and for that, he is rightly elevated as the real leader of my house. It's impact that makes the difference -- above and beyond anything we can ever hope to be in our lifetime. The ability to get people tuned in to what matters most and the rare, God-given superpower to do it with humility and grace. Real leaders inspire us to be better, greater, and more significant and they do it without even trying.

My triplets in a moment of pure love and sibling bonding (2016)

I have the honor of serving on a panel to recognize the people in Greater Gainesville, FL who have made an impact to the community. These people run the gamut from small business owners,educators, public sector executives, tech start up gurus, event managers to a recent high school graduate whose diagnosis of Dystonia has galvanized an entire region to fund and find a cure for the crippling disease. The common thread among these people is impact. This is the third year of the local event recognizing contributions of great local leaders, and this year, its true meaning really resonated with me. In fact, the United Way is honored to have so many amazing people affiliated with us who were recognized at the Annual Impact event (see our first link for a list.)

Real impact is authentic and lasting. It's not rehearsed or store bought. It isn't exclusive and it has no target audience. Impact touches everyone. There are many qualities that are important in defining leadership: talent, instinct, integrity, communication, authenticity, resilience, inclusiveness. But none of them as great as impact. So the next time you think about your organization and your staff, think about the person on your team who has had the greatest impact to your organization's success and mission. Celebrate them. Recognize them. "Give them their flowers while they live." Though these people rarely do anything to receive praise, you will be forever blessed to see the smile on their face when you do.

Deborah V. Bowie, CCE, IOM
President & Chief Executive Officer 

United Way
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