We are approaching four years since my late wife Jamie died. During late summer we will hold the four year anniversary of the Foundation that we launched in her name. The Foundation's emphasis around connecting the leaders of tomorrow with the leaders of today and our single minded focus on improving civic engagement so that all of our communities are stronger, healthier, and more vibrant began with her inspiration. Today, she remains our North Star.
The night before Jamie’s funeral, a tiny older woman came through the receiving line. She was dressed humbly, moved slowly, and seemed nervous. When we spoke, she thanked me for allowing her to be present, and shared that she was presently homeless. She said that she often went to the YMCA for a safe place and that she saw Jamie there many times. Jamie stood out to her because she always took the time to speak and ask her how her day was. When the woman, whose name I regretfully do not recall, saw the horrific news about Jamie in the paper, she told her son that she had to come to the funeral, because she felt like Jamie was the only person outside of her family who actually saw her.
During my eulogy for Jamie the next day, inspired by her example, I told the assembled crowd:
Jamie was a real leader. She taught us that being a leader didn’t have to be about having a big title, or chairing the meeting or being in high office. It was also about lifting people up, inspiring them, embracing them and picking them up when they fall. and making them feel like really mattered. That’s why she had such an impact on people, even if she hadn’t known them long. That was the power she had. That was real power. And the thing is: she didn’t even realize she had that power.
The idea of Jamie as a real, grassroots-focused leader, someone rooted in the community, influences our work to this day and it shapes our view of leadership.
Through the work of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Fellows, we have landed on a vision of leadership as a process which is not tied to any specific person or personality trait.
As our leadership model, developed in partnership with Raleigh-based firm Impact Thread, states, "The form of influence that a Values Based Leader utilizes builds a lasting, impactful effect on the followers around them. This is clear in the ripple effect of change that Jamie exemplified. Jamie embodied the sentiments of a Values Based Leader in the way her core attributes of kindness, respect, work-ethic, humility, and engagement disseminated into the community. These attributes attracted individuals willing to enact these same attributes and carry on the values she left behind.”
In terms of what this looks like for our Fellows, we expect them to serve with empathy and kindness at their center. We provide tasks that help both build and showcase their adaptability given that leadership and work in 2017 requires us to quickly read the tea leaves for rapidly changing environments.
Effective communication, continuous learning ability, and overall ability to prioritize and savor joy are key components that go into the process of Values Based Leadership for the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.
The good news for anyone out there who is moved by the example of Jamie or work is that you do not have to have the title of Executive Director or CEO to lead others. The importance of titles is based off of perceived respect, but today it is not inherently earned by position alone. At the Foundation, we tell the Jamie Kirk Hahn Fellows that those who show up to every site visit over prepared with questions, while being enthusiastically engaged at each team meeting, and meeting deadlines will prove their value. We also remind them that those who offer to help their other Fellows regardless of how busy they might be are those who earn respect in the end due to the power of their example.
They will earn this respect in large part because, as Jamie taught us all, they opted to truly see the others around them, they chose to respect their common humanity, and in doing so they moved their own work — and the hard work of building our community — forward
Jamie only served on one Board of Directors in her too short life. She showed us as much as anyone that you do not need a title to serve and that is why we encourage you to start doing the hard work of moving our community forward today. Right now.
Positive change really does begin with you.