What It Takes To Be a Leader

Guest post by Stephanie Winn, manager of talent attraction and retention, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce

For the past year, we've been working on the planning and execution of the ninth annual Nashville Emerging Leader Awards (NELAs). This year's event will be held Thursday, July 30, at Lipscomb University's Collins Alumni Auditorium. It’s hard to believe all the hard work put in by our team at the Chamber is about to pay off!

Full disclosure: It’s my first year managing this program, and I have learned many lessons along the way. Each year, we receive more than 500 nominations and 200 applications from YPs throughout Middle Tennessee vying to be named the top young professional leader in one of 15 industries. I read each application, and all I can say is, "WOW!" The level of young professional talent in our community is truly amazing and inspiring.


In my totally unscientific method (read: reading many, many narratives and biographies about Nashville’s elite), I have summed up three steps to be the change you want to see in the world.

1. Don’t wait for someone else to fix it.
In many of their application essays, our NELAs finalists shared stories about times when they didn’t wait for an older, wiser leader to tell them what to do. They trusted their own judgment and made the right decision. If you notice a problem at your office or in your neighborhood, take charge. Ask others for opinions and then, like Nike's slogan tells us, “Just do it.”

2. Work smart, work hard…but take time to recharge.
How they do it I will never know, but many of our finalists are passionate about their hobbies. Yes, hobbies. On top of career, family and community commitments, these outstanding folks are completing triathlons, building furniture as a side business, running a farm or going spelunking. What this tells me is that they have optimized their time in the office, navigated Nashville’s social scene, are raising families AND taking time to do what they love. Why? It’s what gives them the fuel to do it all again the next day. I know it’s not that easy, but finding something you love to do and taking the time for yourself can often lead you down a path to leadership by its very nature. Passion is infectious. Find yours and share.

3. Don’t be your own enemy.
Lastly, I know you’ve heard this before, but only you can hold you back. All our applicants cited a fear – whether it was public speaking or failure – and how they overcame it. I believe we all have the potential to be named an emerging leader, but not knowing how to tap into that potential is what stops us. I leave you with this: You probably have a network of supporters, but to be truly successful, you need to be your own biggest fan (sorry, Mom).

Register today for the 2015 awards ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of 75 outstanding young professionals and find out who our 15 winners are. Who knows – maybe next year, it will be you or your star employee accepting one of our 2016 NELAs!

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