"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Friday, March 9, 2012

Learning and Leading by Example

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  Throughout the day I read a number of articles about women and their accomplishments and struggles to gain equal recognition and rights alongside men.  All of it made me think about my personal journey as a young girl from a conservative, patriarchal religious background and my long, slow awakening to the power and possibilities available to me and so many other women.   
I was raised Mormon, so from a young age I was conditioned to expect a pretty traditional future for myself—marriage, babies, preferably with a husband who was the sole provider while I stayed home raising children. Not that any of this was ever really ever explicitly communicated to me by my parents, but it was the model presented in church and was also the way my own parent’s marriage functioned for close to 15 years. 
Luckily my parents encouraged all of their children to read, learn, be curious about the world, think critically, and ask questions.  They both valued education, not just for the sake of having a degree, but for the act of learning and understanding the world around us.  Again, most of this was communicated more by example than by words. 
By my early teens my parents were divorced and I was beginning to question the supposed pre-ordained plan for my life.  Of course, then I was still young and very much influenced by peer pressure and the need for acceptance.  For the most part I still lived the conservative lifestyle I always had, but deep inside I struggled to reconcile what even then I recognized as my authentic self with the person those around me thought I was, and the future they assumed I would embrace.  It wasn’t until decades later, in my early thirties with two failed marriages behind me, that I really started to live life as the person I was, growing and stretching beyond my own assumptions about how my life should be lived.  Around this time, one of my “other duties as assigned” at work was to serve on the board of trustees for a fledgling Boys & Girls Club in the area. I look back at that assignment with much gratitude and thankfulness because it introduced me to a world I love, ignited my passion for volunteering, connected me to a community of people I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and led me to other great volunteering experiences where I’ve met women who have become my friends, teachers, mentors and examples of strong female leaders. 
I started what turned into a 6 ½ year stint on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis board with absolutely no experience in non-profit leadership. I’ve learned most of what I now know the hard way as I was gradually, subtly challenged and pushed by women, and also men, who saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.  Before too long I was asked to join the executive committee of the board.  The few years I spent on the executive committee were full of many stressful situations and hard decisions. I watched and learned as the two other women on the executive committee with me led with wisdom, graciousness and finesse.  I don’t know if they realized how green I was, but by first giving me a seat at the table, and then treating me as someone who’s opinions and knowledge mattered, they taught me many valuable lessons about mentoring and leadership.   
Not too long after joining the Boys & Girls Club, I was invited to a recruitment night for the Junior League of Ogden.  The Junior League of Ogden's reputation goes back over 60 years, and many former Junior Leaguers are some of the smartest, most influential women in my community.  Being asked to join their ranks was an honor and a dream come true!  Being in the Junior League taught me what it really means to push your sleeves up and work hard--for free! The great thing was the work was always done among friends, women who started out as strangers, but many of whom are now good friends and strong allies and supporters of causes I care about. 
Three years of Junior League fundraiser fun
My first full year in the League was during the celebration of the Junior League of Ogden’s 50th Anniversary.  The League President that year was Kym Buttschardt, a woman with boundless energy, optimism and charisma who can motivate volunteers like no other.  Here again was an example of a woman doing good things, and encouraging other women to do the same.  Under her leadership I learned the value of being a cheerleader for a cause you believe in, no matter how chaotic and stressful things are behind the scenes.  She taught by example that there isn’t a place for cattiness, competition and trying to one-up each other as women.  I learned from her that it’s important for women to encourage and support each other, not tear each other down, and that the seemingly impossible task is possible, especially when you rally a bunch of motivated women! 
Entrance to the Junior League of Ogden's
Oasis Community Garden
Not just white gloves & pearls. 
Junior League ladies working at Oasis Community Garden

There were many other amazing woman leaders in the League.  During my 10 years as an active member I learned many valuable lessons, and can honestly say the League stayed true to their mission of being an “organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.”  Being able to say I was a Junior League of Ogden member has opened many doors for me and connected me to many great causes and people in the community.  
Junior League Sustainers

A few months ago I attended a Women In Business committee luncheon for my local Chamber of Commerce.  The speaker was an author, M. Bridget Cook.  She mentioned the importance of women supporting each other and talked about how women so often “harpoon themselves daily with the darts of comparison”.  She introduced me to the Hindi word gnshai which means you should never treat yourself or another person in a manner that makes one feel small.  Gnshai pretty much sums up for me how the influential women in my life treat others.  They’re leaders, mentors and friends because they understand the importance of women supporting each other and never making others feel small. 
About six weeks ago I attended the annual Women in Business Athena Awards luncheon.  The 2011 Athena winner gave a moving, emotional talk that I’m still thinking about almost two months later.  In it she highlighted the Athena leadership model and the eight attributes that reflect women’s contributions to leadership:  Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.  Then she called up several women in her life who characterized each of these attributes to her.  Her personal story and examples of women who embody these characteristics really hit home with me.  It dawned on me that all the women who have been such positive, powerful influences in my life have embodied some, if not all of these eight characteristics.  I listened that day and decided right then and there that I need to pay it forward.  I need to focus on the Athena model and learn to lead using these characteristics.  I owe it to all the Athena’s in my life to become a supporting, nurturing mentor to other women.  Somehow through luck, fate, karma, or whatever, I’ve been blessed with many women who have helped me along my path in life and introduced me to things that have become my passion.  I’ll know I’ve succeeded in some small way in life if someday someone can say the same about me. 
Junior Leaguers Sue & Aimee enjoying the calm before the storm
Children's Health Connection 2009
Children's Health Connection patrons in the Medical Vitals room
A Children's Health Connection patron receiving free immunizations



  1. Keicha, this is a terrific post -- isn't it amazing what the sisterhood of women can do in terms of helping empower one another? You were indeed fortunate to have fine experiences and mentors as you moved forward.

    For a number of years, I was in Lansing's Junior League and I have to say it really guided me toward choosing my present career path. I remember going to Junior League functions with a kid when my mom worked in the thrift shop. They later taught me much of what I learned about managing meetings, publications, and much more. (And mighty fine cookbooks, I might add!).

    Really enjoyed getting to know this part of your world as well!

    1. Hi Jeanie,

      How great to find out that you were also a Junior Leaguer! Funny that you were drug along to Jr. League functions as a child. My poor daughter went to so many functions during the last ten years that she should probably be an honorary member. Like you, I learned how to run a meeting efficiently, how to plan projects strategically from idea all the way through to completion, and how to work with huge volunteer committees on projects. I also used to help with the monthly publication.

      This coming League year I'm going to be a Sustaining Advisor, which I'm looking forward to. I'd love to send you one of our cookbooks. Private message me your address if you don't mind.


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