“Take pride in your work. Have self-respect. Give encouragement and recognition. Be an example to the community.”

These words are not my own, but were carefully written and chosen by the employees of District 5 as the principles and ethics they want to live and work by as they serve the citizens of Jones County each day.

There is a larger principle hidden within these simple words – the true meaning of leadership.

You see, I believe that true leadership is about inspiring, mentoring and serving alongside those you lead. Each day I have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Jones County with people who continually inspire me to be the leader they deserve, and each day I strive to be the leader that you deserve.

But, I believe that to be a truly effective leader, I must inspire others to serve alongside me. I must teach others how to lead, be a positive example and mentor those who are willing to stand with me.

Today – I challenge you to join me. Let’s get started.

Step 1. Seek A Need

In order to lead, teach or mentor, you must first identify a need that has yet to be met, or a problem without a solution.

Many years ago I identified a need within our community – the challenges and negative influences our young people face. From teenage mothers to misled young men, the young people in our community face problems that affect their lives for decades to come and are in desperate need of positive influences, mentorship and real help.

Look around you – at what point in your daily life, or the lives of those around you, could you provide a helping hand, meet a need or solve a problem. Sometimes, even the smallest needs can overwhelm without the help of others. Be that helper.

Step 2. Identify your Resources

I believe that people with resources have a responsibility to affect change. Perhaps your resources lie within your abilities, your talents and your skills. Perhaps yours lie within relationships with others and an ability to connect a problem with a solution. Perhaps your resources lie within your ideas and your unique ability to see a solution hidden deep within a problem.

In the 1980s, I was a part of the early initiative on strategic planning to combat teen pregnancy. This great need was apparent right here at home in Jones County. The Mississippi Department of Health tells us that, “Compared with older mothers, teenage mothers are more likely to be high school dropouts, limiting future earnings and the financial support they provide their child, and they are more likely to rely on public assistance.”

Our teen mothers are not the only group of young people that deserve our attention. The young men in our community are struggling to fight negative influences and to find positive mentors to show them how to make good choices and to choose a new direction for their lives.

Early on I found that my ability to mentor could be used to serve these young men. Every week I work with the Laurel Middle School boys to help them develop good behavior, gentleman-like qualities and academic success.

Whatever your resources – you have a responsibility to use them to better the lives of others and to affect change. How will you use your resources?

Step 3. Take Action

Once you have found a need and identified your available resources, the next step is to simply take action and to begin working toward a solution.

Perhaps the problem you’ve chosen requires the help of others. Do not wait for someone else to take the lead, instead seek out those whose resources “fill in the gaps” and begin working together toward a solution.

Even when you’re going it alone, you can still affect change by taking small, consistent steps toward a solution. Even small actions can have a great impact.

For instance – my youth mentorship program cannot reach every middle school boy in Mississippi. But, by working with specific, troubled youth, I can see a great, lasting impact in the lives of those who need the most help. Through this program I am seeing lives changed simply by providing a positive example and giving young people the attention they desperately need.

Similarly, the very real problem of teen pregnancy in Jones County has been addressed by many and we have seen great success in the years since I first joined the fight. Since 1980 the teen pregnancy rate in Mississippi has dropped by nearly 50% and is continuing to drop further each year. By using my resources of connection, strategic planning and leadership and by taking action alongside others who believe as I do – we have been able to affect real change, right here at home.

Whether you’re forming a team to tackle a large problem, or chipping away at a smaller problem alone, your actions today will compound into a significant impact over time. By simply taking action, you will inspire those around you to do the same.

Step 4. Inspire Others to Lead

If we are to make great, lasting changes in Jones County we must work together to make the greatest impact possible. The best way to inspire others to lead is to be an example of leadership and to provide the tools necessary to lead.

Every morning I meet with the employees of District 5. We talk about the day’s work and problems in need of solutions. Hanging on the wall in our meeting space are the powerful words they chose to guide their work.

“Take pride in your work. Have self-respect. Give encouragement and recognition. Be an example to the community.”

These words are more than principles and values, they are a visible example of effective leadership at work. These men and women have been given the tools they need to lead, to affect change and to work hard for the community we all love.

When you see these hard-working individuals solving problems and helping to move Jones County forward, I hope you will be inspired to lead, and to help others lead alongside you.

Remember – seek a need, use your resources and inspire others – and together we will see great change come about, right here at home.

How will you lead? Add a comment below telling us:

  1. What problem can you help to solve? What is the need?
  2. How can you use your unique resources?
  3. What is your first step? How will you take action?
  4. Who could you inspire to lead and work alongside you?