Conversations on leadership within Kiwanis and beyond.
By Christopher Roman
What is leadership? Can anyone be a leader, or are you born a leader? Leadership can take on many shapes and forms — especially within an organization like Kiwanis, where members are supported by a network of leaders. It’s safe to say that if you are a member of Kiwanis, you have taken the first step to becoming a leader in your community. But what’s the next step? When is the right time to take it — and how do you continue to grow and/or become a leader?
How do you define leadership? We asked the experts:
J.J. Peller, a business coach with Carson Coaching, says leadership is less about you and more about others. Prior to joining Carson in 2019, Peller was a coach, speaker and trainer with his own business, traveling the country for speaking engagements and one-on-ones with entrepreneurs. Before anything else, he says, it comes down to setting a higher standard for yourself and modeling that standard. “Leaders are people who create more leaders. Leaders inspire, encourage, empower and equip other people to tap their greatest potential personally and professionally,” he says. Peller believes that being a leader is less about being the boss than about elevating humanity.
Kiwanis International Past President Paul Palazzolo joined Key Club in 1980, when he was a high school student in Springfield, Illinois. For him, leadership is seeing a need and bringing together a team to meet that need. He began serving in leadership roles after being tapped by advisors in his district. At the time, it was difficult for a young person to get leadership opportunities, but Palazzolo saw the necessity of getting more young people involved. “We needed to cut the cord on tired initiatives and do some new things that were a little more relevant,” he says. “That is a key word that is important in the Kiwanis world: Your service needs to be relevant to your community.” And Palazzolo set an example: As a local president, lieutenant governor and district governor, he showed people that someone who was 29 years old, employed and married could still have the time to get involved.
“As a leader, you need to be able to easily court people through change,” says Jan Hyde, district education and leadership development chair for the Australia District. “You grow as a leader when you are flexible to change and create ways to implement it, bringing others along.” A retired teacher, former club president, secretary, lieutenant governor and district governor, Hyde says you are never too old to learn and take on new roles. For her, working with people is key, and by fostering collaborative decision-making, coaching and encouragement, one creates a shared vision for the group. When she became lieutenant governor, for example, she was the only woman on a board of 15. New and eager to learn, she threw herself into the role because on-the-job-training, she says, is the key to good leadership.
In California, Spanish-speaking clubs are quickly growing, thanks to Immediate Past Division 26 Lt. Gov. Argentina Davila-Leuvano. As a member of Kiwanis for more than 10 years, she believes that by helping others, we become fulfilled and that leadership is lifelong learning from others. For that reason, she has continued to answer the call to lead as club secretary, president and even a founding member of the Kiwanis Club of San Pablo. She also serves on the boards and commissions of other service organizations in the area. To lead, Davila-Leuvano says, you must be genuinely interested in helping others achieve their goals.
Shawn “Spike” Smith, a third-generation Kiwanian from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, agrees. Since joining in 2015, he has served in multiple leadership roles at the club and district levels. Currently the president and public relations chair for the Kiwanis Club of Sheraden and lieutenant governor-designate for Division 5 in the Pennsylvania District, he refers to his moment of getting involved as being “voluntold” to come to a meeting. But he welcomed the opportunity. Smith says leadership is putting the needs of others first. He follows the servant leadership model because he sees being a Kiwanis club president as something bigger than himself. Smith originally created “LGBTQ and YOU” for the 2018 Pennsylvania District Convention and has since presented at other Kiwanis events and Rotary club meetings. During the 2019 Kiwanis International Convention, he proposed the addition of wording for the protection of all sexual orientations and gender identities, making Kiwanis International the first international service organization to do so in its nondiscrimination policy.
7 steps to becoming a more effective leader
Whether you’re thinking of taking on a leadership role or already in one, there is always room for growth. Consider these steps and advice to help you along the way.
1. Know your reason.
Take a moment to think about the pros and cons — and what would happen if you don’t step up. “What would be your reason to step up into a next-level leadership role to help out even more people?” J.J. Peller says. “Will you miss out on an opportunity for self-growth if you choose to stay comfortable, not in a leadership role? When we step into opportunities that are uncomfortable … it is an opportunity to strengthen, expand and become an even greater version of ourselves.”
As you move into your role, he says, remind yourself of your mission because it will dictate your leadership style. To create a shared vision, you must be on board with your own goals to get others in line.
2. Take the plunge.
Conventions, both for Kiwanis International and your district, are excellent resources. “That is where you will get the spirit and ideas,” says Paul Palazzolo. “No matter if your club is a good club or struggling club, take the plunge because your ideas can help turn that around. Kiwanis exists as an association of clubs to help leaders in the pursuit of their vision.”
3. Listen with empathy.
Listening is not a passive act, says Peller. For him, it’s important to understand the micro-missions of the people you work with to help direct the overall path. “Listen so that you can understand the heartbeat and pulse of the people that you are leading.”
4. Communicate effectively.
You cannot bring people together to work toward a vision without being able to communicate that vision. You’ll also need time for reflection, so you can envision where you want your club to be at the end of the year. Palazzolo suggests having retreats with your best people and recognizing who you want to tap for leadership. Getting input, revising the snapshot and communicating the goal will get your club there.
5. Observe other leaders.
“Proximity is power,” Peller says. When we are around other people who have the same ambition to lead effectively, it will elevate our desire to develop the necessary skills.
Jan Hyde says to observe different types of leaders, especially those in Kiwanis, and to think about the qualities and styles they use to lead. No matter the position, find out as much as you can while anticipating that you will also have to learn skills on the job. Argentina Davila-Luevano says to learn all you can about the role and conduct a self-assessment to determine your strengths and weaknesses.
Also keep up with podcasts, books and other resources focused on other people’s experiences. Wisdom and guidance are available in various media from leaders who have perfected their craft.
6. Seek out or be a mentor.
Many people feel they must be successful to be a mentor. But Peller says this is far from true. “If you think of your success as a path from A to Z, and if you are at D,” he says, “everyone that is at A, B, and C — you can mentor them.”
A leader’s job is to help create even more leaders. Had it not been for others tapping him on the shoulder, Spike Smith says, he would not be where he is today. He says a leader should always give new people a task to work on to make them feel part of the organization.
Build a team around you, Hyde says, and let them help. Seek out someone with whom you are comfortable asking for advice and support. When you get help in areas you’re not confident about, you’re not weak — you’re amenable to change.
7. Just have fun.
Leadership is important, Smith says, but don’t take everything too seriously. “If you can’t have fun doing what you’re doing, then stop,” he adds. “Leading in Kiwanis is helping the helpers, but if you are business, business, business, you’re missing the point.”
This story originally appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.