Collaboration is a universal principle of true leadership. Long term success for individuals, associations, businesses and governments most often comes from collaboration, rather than innate competitiveness. Authentic collaborators say they regularly experience fulfillment, satisfaction and long lasting happiness. It’s never too late to make a shift to leading through collaboration, nor is it too early. I was moved by this inspiring story shared by Barbara Murphy-Warrington, Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York at the GSGNY 2013 Women of Distinction Breakfast. I am grateful to Barbara for allowing me to share her story on this blog:
This summer, I spent time with two amazing Girl Scouts. Khyla and Charlotte were among 51 girls selected to participate in the launch of the year-long Girl Scout Leadership Institute, which is our newest capstone program created in partnership with Barnard College. It enables girls to explore ethical leadership, meet with professional women who serve as role models, and develop skills in our four program focal areas of STEM, environment, business and entrepreneurship, and personal identity leadership.
The Institute began with a 10-day summer intensive at Barnard. That’s where Charlotte and Khyla studied entrepreneurship, built a business concept, and then pitched their concept to a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs, business people, and angel investors.
Khyla was entering 9th grade. She had just graduated from an under- resourced middle school in the South Bronx, where she participated in our Girl Scout program offered during the school-day. Khyla was quiet and uncertain about whether she would fit in. She hesitated in sharing her ideas, especially in the face of her older and more world-savvy partner, Charlotte. But Khyla had a strong desire to learn how to lead. Charlotte was entering the 12th grade in a gifted program at one of Manhattan’s top math and science high schools. Born in England and having lived in different countries, she was confident in her analytical abilities, and she took the lead in most situations. But Charlotte wanted to know what it would take to be a great leader.
The two girls were then put together on a project team to develop their business idea. Frankly, their first few days were very aggravating. They struggled to appreciate the other’s gifts. When the team said Khyla’s business idea was the most promising…Khyla was elated, but Charlotte was depressed. And while Charlotte’s ability to analyze the issues so quickly inspired the team, it unnerved Khyla. The Institute instructors intervened. They advised Charlotte and Khyla on how leaders resolve conflict. They taught them that great leaders appreciate diversity in building teams, and showed them how these leaders reason to the right answer when they have to make tough decisions. Well, it worked!
By the fifth day, something MAGICAL happened. Charlotte and Khyla opened their eyes, minds and hearts, and began seeing the gifts each had to offer. Khyla’s business idea ignited the team’s imagination. Charlotte’s keen analytical skills helped the team create a sound business proposal with metrics that were stunningly advanced. The fact is, the Institute created a safe space for two girls from very different worlds and with different gifts. It brought them together to have a shared experience in practicing leadership. It enabled them to create something neither would have done alone.
Friends, this is what we do in Girl Scouts! We help girls overcome barriers so that they can make the contributions our society so desperately needs.
Today, Girl Scouts of Greater New York serves nearly 28,000 girls, between the ages of 5-17, who come from all five boroughs of New York City. This is our eighth consecutive year in reaching more girls. We do this with over 9,000 committed volunteers, who make our work possible. Our girls represent the incredible racial, ethnic, religious, and socio- economic diversity of this City. Almost two-thirds of the girls we serve come from low-income communities. We know that girls learn best from successful women role models. However, when they look at today’s top leaders, they find few women……And it’s not because women are unprepared to lead. Girls are watching. They still see a glass ceiling. They still question whether they are capable of leading or should even try. Girls can’t be what they can’t see. So that’s why we honor extraordinary women, like Cheryl, Felita, Laurel, Nicola and Samantha*. Through them, our Girl Scouts will see– -and they will know—what’s possible!!
To conclude, let me return to Khyla and Charlotte…
On family night of the Summer Intensive, Charlotte told everyone that her team helped her to see that great leadership is about making the team stronger, and not about the individual. On the last day of the Intensive, one of the panel judges praised Khyla for her creative business idea. Perhaps for the first time, Khyla understood that she is capable of far more than she ever imagined.
As we step into our next century, the transformative experiences of Charlotte and Khyla explain why we are absolutely clear about the work we must do. I believe that there are Khylas and Charlottes in each of our lives. We can each seize the opportunity to reach out to them. Let them know that you are here, and that you believe they can and will make our world a better place.
– Barbara Murphy-Warrington, Chief Executive Officer, Girl Scouts of Greater New York
Addendum: Let’s lead by example, as do the Girls Scouts of Greater New York, and show the next generation of leaders that it is collaboration which will bring peace, positive change and happiness to all people. — Leslie Grossman, author, “LINK OUT: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections”, Chair, CEO Peer Advisory Board, Vistage International
* Felita Harris, Samantha Kappagoda, Nicola Palmer, Laurel Rossi, Cheryl L. Swiatkowski were recognized as role models for “Today’s Girls, Tomorrow’s Leaders” by The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, 2013.