Nancy Vaughan: Authentic leadership can transform our world

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By Nancy Vaughan | For The Herald Bulletin Feb 24, 2019 
I find that I am at the point in my career (I believe they call it “seasoned”) when I am frequently asked to share my experience.
Last week I was a co-presenter at the Great Rivers Regional United Way conference on the topic “Driving Authentic Leadership & Growth.” Much of the presentation focuses on understanding the United Way Worldwide Network business model to engage people community by community to work together to improve the quality of life for everyone. The remainder is on understanding what leadership is and how it is necessary to carry out the mission.
As I have experienced this transition over the past 20 years, I have come to realize how misunderstood the term leadership is, not just in our organization, but across our country and the globe. In fact, the term leadership has become so misunderstood that the reaction of many to a person or organization that claims to want to lead is distrust. \
A quick review of how often “leaders” focus on self-interest over the interest of those they profess to lead explains that reaction.
Leadership is not bestowed. It must be earned through a series of actions that reflect an understanding of the concerns of those we seek to lead. It begins by taking personal responsibility to identify and uphold shared values. It progresses by listening to people and understanding the systems that impact our lives.
Leadership does not require having all the answers or making all of the decisions. Thank goodness! It requires sharing responsibility and sharing the spotlight. It requires taking responsibility for actions, which is a lot easier when that responsibility is shared.
I think if more people understood the true nature of leadership, more would feel empowered to step up and participate in community life. I hope more people would begin to ask leaders questions such as “Do you understand my concerns?” and “How can I work with you?” instead of “How are you going to fix things?”
No one person has the answer to that last question.
I know that when people sit down together in a safe environment to talk about community, there is a tremendous amount of agreement and feeling of personal responsibility to be part of positive change. Rarely do people say they are looking for someone to come along and take care of everything. They do say they need someone to identify how they can effectively participate.
The most difficult part of leading is staying on track when it seems like we are truly swimming upstream, or sometimes, against a rip tide. Change takes time and in this age of immediate gratification and constant claims of easy fixes, time is a precious commodity.
Our leadership session defined the highest level of leadership as “the paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will.” In other words, “this isn’t about me, but I am determined to do everything in my power to make it happen.”
Can you imagine what could be accomplished if a large enough group of people with that commitment joined forces? We could perhaps describe it as Living United!
Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County. She can be reached at or 765-608-3061.