The Call to Leadership

Jenny Niklaus (Class XXIV), VP of Innovation Networks, ALF Silicon Valley

“…May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers,

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But to do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.”

–       John O’Donohue

A few months ago I was asked to speak to the graduating seniors at Notre Dame High School about leadership and how to work collaboratively to create social change. As I sat down to prepare for this great charge and consider what wisdom I could possibly impart to this powerful group of young women, this poem by John O’Donohue would not leave my mind.

What is true leadership and what creates social change? As I boiled it down for this conversation with the women of Notre Dame, I realized in essence, leadership is about courage and the ability to work with fear. Everyday leaders are faced with a myriad of decisions, some difficult, some not, some transformative. Often many decisions are not clear but the best choice out of a group of mediocre possibilities.

As leaders in ALF, we realize that we are not called to make decisions but to consider the best way to make those decisions, to consider the “how” knowing that the way we show-up as leaders in the midst of tough decisions can make all the difference in how successfully that decision is heard, discussed later and implemented.

We ask our leaders to take on new models for dialogue and to consider the capacity of networked leadership to create lasting change in our communities. This is essentially the proposition of the Innovation Networks, that change through networked leadership is possible and will in fact be more profound and have deeper impact. Impact is not exclusive to the innovation networks. I am seeing the possibilities for dynamic leadership and change from a group of faith leaders within the ALF network.  This group is working to develop a dialogue that will consider the current and long-term impact of income disparities in our community. This group consists of Senior Fellows from across the classic and innovation class networks. As leaders of faith, they are willing to state, and bring forward to their constituencies, that a community without equity is not acceptable. I am seeing this same conversation reflected in the Urban Innovation Network as they ask the powerful question “Is urbanism just another word for gentrification?”

These conversations are happening because ALF has provided the space and the process for them to occur safely and without repercussion. These leaders are not required to have all the answers or to present their 10-point plan for success. They are simply willing to sit in a circle together and ask the tough questions of themselves, with the intention of broadening the dialogue beyond their circle, making the circle ever wider in its reach and impact. This is the power of networked leadership, the magic and impact of ALF.

As I gazed out as this group of senior women and their families, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities that lie in front of these future leaders. If we are lucky, we will see them in the networks creating change in our community and I have no doubt, they will drive these critical dialogues as future Senior Fellows of ALF.