Training Leaders: Start With A Spark

Dr. Stephanie Poole Martinez is an Associate Professor of Communication at St. Edward’s University.

As an educator I have often heard at conferences, graduations, and read in colleagues teaching philosophies the quote that has become a cliché and that has been misattributed at times to Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  It is a good quote regardless of the author or its over-use.  As a professor who teaches Leadership, I hope that I have contributed to a few fires over the years.

On the other hand, as I think about this quote and my life, I worry that I have worried too much about these fires and not enough about the sparks.  I teach all the theories of Leadership in my class from Trait Theory to Servant Leadership.  We concentrate on understanding theories and being able to apply them in our lives.  We do research on big issues and important leaders.  I wonder.  Am I trying to get to the fire too quickly?  As I sit in my office looking at my computer I wonder what other ways I make a difference.  Have I lost my own fire?

This summer I started volunteering with my 7 year-old daughter with an organization called, Little Helping Hands.  I actually found the group through Amber Moyer Fogarty when I asked her about places that would welcome our family’s help and not just mine.  At Little Helping Hands you sign up for spots on a monthly calendar to volunteer at various places around Austin.  My daughter and I made Macaroni and Cheese the other day for Caritas of Austin.  Did I have other things to do?  Yes.  Could I have gone and bought pre-made macaroni and cheese and dropped off a crate of it?  Probably.  The difference is I spent the afternoon talking to my daughter about hunger in Austin and around the world.  We discussed the ways we are trying to solve hunger and the ways we have succeeded and the ways we have failed. 

In my classes I often do service learning.  I have published and presented conference papers in the area.  I have volunteered for nonprofit organizations over the years.  Lately though, I admit I have become complacent.  I thought I had lost my fire.  I am too busy being a professor and a Mom.  I have papers to grade, research to do, publications to submit, and classes to prepare.  I stopped donating my time and talents and relied on writing checks.  And believe me, nonprofits need those checks as well, but they also need our time.  They need us to create sparks. This summer I decided I was tired of being tired when I got home from work.  It was time to find my own fire again.  Since the day we made macaroni and cheese, my daughter has mentioned volunteering and wants to know when we can do it again.  Will she forget about last week?  Maybe.  But I hope I have lit a spark that someday will become a fire.  I know that my own fire was not out.  It was simply smoldering and waiting to roar again.  

Today’s post is number twelve of the SOS Leadership Austin Leading Ladies’ Blog Series. The purpose of this blog series is to share the stories and insights of women who are answering the call to leadership in their lives. Come back each Friday to read more!

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