What were our community’s most pressing issues 20 years ago? 50? 100?
The answers are wide and varied, and looking back upon some of them, it can be difficult to comprehend a society where those problems existed.
It’s something I’ve been reflecting on recently as my organization, the YWCA, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. As a pioneering leader in race relations, labor and the empowerment of women, the YWCA has seen and fought for a lot.
To name some things: Women’s right to vote. Workers’ rights, including the eight-hour workday. Interracial cooperation and civil rights. Women and people of color have come a long way throughout history, and of course, there is still so much to do.
Leadership is critical to staring down societal problems and fighting for solutions, and it’s part of the YWCA’s legacy.
It’s also why I’m so passionate about leadership, what it takes to find personal leadership and how we can develop leaders within our communities that will continue to overcome the challenges that lay before us.
Police brutality. Poverty and homelessness. And the systemic racism that undergirds numerous societal issues. Leaders — from across the spectrum, but especially those from underrepresented communities and backgrounds — are essential in the work we have before us.
In the YWCA’s work in leadership development, a question I often ask of the women who come through our doors is this: What is your leadership “superpower”? What is that special skill that enables you to bring people together and move forward? The answers I hear vary, and they’re not always concrete skills. They can be nebulous — it’s the positive things people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s why people want you on their team.
I have found that my own personal leadership superpower is diplomacy. It’s the ability to bring people and perspectives together to find success where perhaps just one person may have seen a question mark or gray area. And while leadership superpowers can be applied to numerous different contexts, I find that social justice is an area where they can have the biggest impact.
It’s taken generations of women discovering their leadership voice and talents — and to apply them to situations where progress seemed impossible — to overcome some of history’s greatest societal challenges. It seems absurd to us now that there existed a time when women lacked the right to vote. We ought to envision a day when widespread homelessness and systemic racism in our communities are viewed similarly.
But we can’t just envision it. We must fight, every day, to get there. And it will take the continuous development of community leaders to make it happen. ●
Margaret Mitchell is president and CEO at YWCA Greater Cleveland