By: Eva Hunter, Community Development Manager
During a staff call earlier this year, one of my co-workers discussed the work of the Volunteer Impact Group and specifically their response to their role as leaders. I found it very interesting that these women seem to have a negative view of their ability to take on a leadership role. It made me wonder where their hesitation comes from and why in the twenty first century we still have reluctance from women to accept this role, especially within an organization that prides itself on being the pre-eminent organization for developing girl leadership. What does their definition of leadership look like? Who do they look to as role models for themselves? Why are they struggling with their ability to emulate these role models? Is it that they don’t recognize their leadership skills and impact? What do their voices look and sound like to them?
These questions inspired me to reflect on my own personal leadership journey. I hope to come to a better understanding of their struggles and offer my journey as enlightenment.
I remember wanting to join Girl Scouting as a child in elementary school and for reasons I never understand and perhaps still don’t; it just never happened for me. I remember the other girls in my class coming to school in their vests and sashes and watching them laughing and having fun together. I remember their conversations about all the things they were doing in their troops, and I remember promising myself that someday I too would be a Girl Scout. Do the promises we make to ourselves matter? What does my voice sound like?
Time passes and people grow up, the childhood dreams we had get tossed to the side in favor of other bigger and brighter dreams. Sometimes those dreams are realized, and sometimes those dreams return and continue to “be on the list.” And so it was with me and my dream of being a Girl Scout. I made it through my “wild oat” years and the challenges we all face, to land on my feet, face to the wind. My new baby girl who turned five seemingly overnight asked to be a Girl Scout and I got to say yes! I was thrilled for Sarah and actually cried a little when I registered her with her troop. Is this how leadership begins?
You might think that I’d jump in and volunteer to help with her troop. I didn’t and I’ll admit it’s because I didn’t believe I was qualified. I thought that I was too shy, and that I didn’t have any experience that would be worth sharing with girls. I didn’t know what my voice looked like or sound like. It wasn’t until her troop leader asked me to be an extra set of hands at a meeting that I made my attempt to help. Unbeknownst to me at the time; I was taking my first tentative steps into the world of leadership. Who are the role models we look to?
When Sarah’s little sister Alyssa was three she loved to come with me to drop Sarah off at her meetings. I can remember that on more than one or two occasions Alyssa would pull a class act temper tantrum because she wanted to stay and be a Girl Scout too! As I carried her to the car kicking and screaming I promised her that when she turned four that she could be a Daisy. (Luckily for me, the new Girl Scout level was to include girls in Pre-K). Do the promises we make to others matter? How do we live the Girl Scout Promise?
Alyssa turned four on a typical Syracuse day in February. We awoke to schools closed and a roaring blizzard. She sat up in her bed that morning and told me with all the enthusiasm you can imagine contained in a four year old, “Today is my birthday and I get to be a Girl Scout! You promised.” We arrived at the Girl Scout offices later that afternoon, asked about joining a troop, were told the smallest one had thirty four girls in it, and met with Mary Stewart to get our own started. Mary was quite taken aback that a volunteer would just wander in to start a troop, but I had made a promise to my daughter and it was important to me to keep it. I was a first hand witness to the development taking place in Sarah because of her involvement in Girl Scouts, and I knew I wanted the same for Alyssa. Little did I know that my journey was about to get very interesting and that it would challenge me in ways that I never even dreamed of. Not only did I start a new Daisy troop, which stayed together into their Junior years, I also took on the role of service unit manager, council trainer, and program volunteer, national council delegate and continued to help with Sarah’s troop. Do we even recognize where or when our leadership journeys begin?
Yes I was still shy inside, yet I still trembled at the thought of all the responsibility I had and heaven forbid the thought of talking in front of a large group of people. Which is exactly what I was asked to do. The council CEO asked me to make “the-ask” at our Girl Scout Talent Show. This was a fundraising event at the time, which had well over 500 people in attendance. I was held at the local junior high school with moms, dads and grandparents there to watch their girls perform on stage. Can I say I was terrified? As I held the microphone in my trembling hands and prepared to walk out on stage for the first time as M.C. for the evening all I could think about was the girls. They were both excited and terrified at the same time. Their eyes were on me and I had to make sure that I didn’t freak them out! I remember visualizing the butterflies in my stomach and lining them up in a flight formation, and as I opened my mouth to speak I released them into the audience with my message. It worked and I calmed down and I have used the technique many times since. We had a great night, the girls were wonderful and we reached our goal. Did I ever stop to think of the impact I was having on the other volunteers that night? No, I didn’t think it mattered and I didn’t believe they were watching me in that way. Who do they look to as role models for themselves? Why are they struggling with their ability to emulate these role models?
Eventually I was hired as staff with legacy council CNY. After a sad teary eyed good-bye and good luck farewell party with my troop, my co-leader hesitantly assumed the role of troop leader and hiked off into the future with the girls. My years as a troop leader are ones I will treasure and remember forever. I grew as an adult in more ways that I ever thought possible. I learned about my leadership style, and shared my lessons freely with other adult volunteers. Early in my career as a troop leader I realized that I would be in the memories of my girls in my troop forever. Good or bad, I’d be there somewhere. Whether in a story shared with friends or their own daughters, I knew I had the power to influence them. I held that power sacred and determined to make their memories positive ones.
Realizing that you are a role model for girls or anyone for that matter is a sobering thought. I was finally a Girl Scout! In hindsight I realize that I have always tried to emulate the values of the Girl Scout law and promise. It resonates within my soul and it guides my decisions and instincts. It just feels right. I’ve always believe that integrity is what you allow to happen when you think no one is looking. No one ever told me that my shyness would become a quiet strength. No one every told me what my voice looked like or sounded like. No one ever told me that I would one day hold a leadership role or influence others. The women I met through Girl Scouting believed in me and helped guide me through the scary stuff. They helped me discover and enabled me to use my leadership voice.
I wonder if the women involved in the Volunteer Impact Group recognize the power of their own voices. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from my journey is that we all struggle with our own leadership and need an outlet to help us develop a way to recognize the sound and color of our voices. It seems to me that most adults are visual learners and respond to a hands-on experience. Being artistically inclined helped me visually explore, create and recognize the color and sound of my voice. Like me it is a work in progress, ever changing, ever growing and forever cherished.
As the pre-eminent organization to develop leadership skills in girls, the women these young ladies look to are everywhere within and without the council. Our leadership model for girls is without equal, no other organization comes close to what we provide for today’s girls. As these girls embark on their journeys will they face the same self-doubt and question their leadership voice? Of course they will. That’s how they’ll learn to recognize the color and sound of their voice. Will their leaders realize the influence they have? We should find out. It’s important.
What color is your voice? Where do you use it? What does it look like?