What Drives You? 5 Personal Stories About Inspired Leadership

What really motivates you to do work that matters in the BIG picture? Brainstorming communication strategy for clients, writing update emails to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, chatting on Skype about awesome webinar and blog post topics … that’s the every day nitty gritty stuff one does. Why are the people on my team at Fission Strategy inspired to use innovative ways to help elevate the status of teachers globally, uplift emerging Hispanic voices, advocate for wise use of land resources, teach people about the threat of nuclear proliferation, and more? Read stories from 5 of us at Fission to see what inspires us to be part of social change movements, and share your own inspiration story in the comments!

Inspired leadership matters and research shows this — for example, Deloitte found that companies with high leadership qualities were six times more likely to be among the top 20 financial performers of all organizations. (Source: Switch and Shift) We are seeing a rise in collective leadership v. heroic leadership — led not by an individual, but by a network of those with a cohesive vision. (Source: Center for Creative Leadership) Go teams! We are lucky to work with each other.

My Story

Adriana’s grandmother Maria Therese von Hammerstein (at left), 1930s in Berlin, Germany; her father General Kurt von Hammerstein (top middle and lower right) was commander in chief of the German Army from 1930 to 1934, and Kurt resigned from his post because he disagreed with Hitler’s policies (lower right).

The life of my grandmother Maria Therese von Hammerstein Paasche (on motorcycle above), “who helped Jews escape Nazi Germany and whose father and brothers conspired to kill Hitler”, as The New York Times described in her obituary, inspires me. She took a courageous stand when it mattered, on behalf of her Jewish friends in cosmopolitan Berlin, and her descendants like me are proud of what she did. Her youth in an exciting intellectual and political landscape gave her a broad perspective, leading her to learn German, Russian, French and English, and many points of view. As a young teenager, I’d lie next to my 90 year old grandmother hearing stories about her 12 years in Japan during World War II, but nothing about her earlier secret motorcycle escapades around Europe. Some things get uncovered and discovered later! Last summer I visited a Resistance Movement museum in Berlin that highlighted my grandmother’s family’s efforts and those of so many others.

Abigail’s Story

Abigail’s parents, Melody and Darryl Simmons, getting married in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1962.

Abigail Ahoude, a New Media Fellow on my team, is inspired by her pioneering parents. “Theirs was the first multiracial relationship in their families. They were married in 1962 even though some family members were not supportive of it and it was still uncommon in Virginia where they met during college. It’s easy to forget how pioneering they were because multiracial relationships are now pretty normal, but it was not back then. Many African descendants in South Carolina and from the Gullah Nation trace their lineage back to Sierra Leone, so it’s possible that some of my dad’s family originally come from there. It’s inspiring to think of the heritage I have.

Austen’s Story

A rally in favor of a recall referendum against Hugo Chávez in the capital, Caracas. Photographer: Carlos Granier-Phelps. Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License v. 2.5.

Austen Levihn-Coon, Chief Innovation Officer at Fission, was a high school exchange student living in Venezuela. He says he was inspired by the experience because: “I witnessed both an attempted coup against then president Hugo Chavez as well as the government’s repressive crackdown on labor unions in the country. The attempted coup carried out by the country’s oligarchs and media owners utilized manipulated video footage to convince the country that the government had perpetrated violence against unarmed protesters, which in fact it had not. Conversely, when labor unions representing employees of the state oil company protested treatment at the hands of Chavez’ government, they were fired and blacklisted. Having witnessed the power of public opinion and power of both the government and the rich to influence the wellbeing of a country’s citizenry, I was inspired to work for justice.”

Ben’s Story

Portrait of Amelia Earhart. Photograph copyright by Underwood and Underwood, public domain.

Our New Media Intern Ben McNully says, “I found out through some family genealogy research that Amelia Earhart is my 4th Great Aunt, and when I was in High School I did a report about her and learned she was one of the first women to have an open marriage clause in her prenup. She also started a group called ‘The Ninety Nines’ for female airforce pilots before WWII. She was influential in my studies about feminism, and an awesome and headstrong leader!”

Marice’s Story

“Some work I did in college, called “2.7x”. It’s just a canvas with white paint. It cost about $90 to make, which is 2–3 times as much as the average maid gets paid a month in the Philippines. Ridic.” — Marice

Our Graphic Designer Marice Sy tells her story, “When I was 17, I went out to buy a tube of white paint to prime my canvas. (Art 101: “priming” means to coat your canvas with several layers of white paint so the colors in your painting appear more vibrant.) Our house helper, Mercy, accompanied me to the store. The paint was 2,000 pesos a tube (about $40) — standard price for a tube of nice white paint. Mercy commented that the white paint was really expensive. It didn’t seem so to me. I learned later that day that Mercy made just a little more a month than the amount I spent on a tube of paint, and she already made quite a lot by market standards. In the context of extreme income inequality, the practice of making art seemed frivolous and wasteful. Millions of families rely on less than it costs to paint the part of a painting you don’t even see. That’s just messed up. Since then, I’ve tried to focus my work to help those who have been less fortunate.”

What inspires you to do work that matters? Share your story in the comments or tweet us @fissionstrategy @apdakin. Come read our thought leadership over at www.fissionstrategy.com/blog!