My sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve has spent this semester of her Grade 12 year involved in an experiential business leadership program with 47 other students from across our region. One of their final assignments was to organize a charity gala in six weeks. That gala happened two nights ago. I’m still buzzing. It was a magical evening and one that I expect will be a transformative marker in the lives of many of those young people. The process was an amazing example of collaborative leadership that I trust you will find inspiring and relevant.
The students’ name tags at the event included a tag line that read, “Break the Bar.” We heard of numerous examples throughout the semester when they were given a challenge to “raise the bar” and their response was, “We’re not going to raise the bar; we’re going to break it.” This group crushed previous records, initially in team building games (“Pass the Tap” at Camp Tawingo was mentioned — anyone else played that one?) and then at a fundraising car wash (they raised $8,000 in two hours) — foreshadowing things to come at the gala.
Genevieve was selected as the Director of Sales and Finance — the senior role responsible for securing corporate sponsorships and managing the money. She came home after their first planning day and told me she had analyzed the numbers and had set a goal of $100,000 net revenue for her team. It sounded like a lofty target. Even more so when I learned that last year’s talented group had raised $48,000.
This is where things got interesting.
I don’t want to give away the punch line quite yet. First, I’d like to explore some of what I witnessed Genevieve and her core team doing that she would now say made all the difference.
- They set a clear, ambitious goal and did not waver from it even when they heard skepticism and grumbling, from inside and outside their group. The key here was the combination of reach and conviction. They did not play small and they were committed to reaching their target.
- Their goal was not communicated in reference to what previous years had accomplished. Had they done that, they would have settled at $50,000. Their goal was bigger, and it was theirs.
- They framed the goal in meaningful terms that took them outside of themselves. Not only were they raising money for three charities — they were changing the world and redefining people’s understanding of what young people can do. The privilege of achieving that bigger vision kept them motivated.
- They knew that reaching a goal of a new magnitude would require new strategies. They had to do things differently if they expected a different result. They continually introduced new possibilities for attracting support.
- They gave people clear sightlines and steps to meet that goal, broken down into daily and weekly tasks and objectives. Everyone knew every day if they were on track, individually and collectively.
- They shared the load. At times, Gen would notice things that needed to happen in other departments or think of ideas that might benefit other areas. She would communicate them to the appropriate people, then let people do their jobs. I frequently heard her say, “Yes, that needs to happen, but my responsibility is corporate sales and finance and I’m going to do that part really well.”
- They insisted on everyone giving their best every day. When that wasn’t happening, the response was a remarkable combination of encouragement and accountability that kept everyone united and in the game.
- They pushed hard right until their deadline. The last corporate pitch was scheduled at 3:30 p.m. on the day before the gala. Corporate recognition banners had to be at the printer by 4 p.m. for 24-hour turnaround. They asked for a response by 4 p.m. and got it. They did not let up but ran hard right to the finish line.
And what a finish line it was. $125,120.05 in profit. Raised by 48 teenagers in six weeks over the Christmas season. Money that will be used to purchase medical equipment locally, to advance research in neonatal intensive care, and to serve people living in conflict zones. Money that was invested by sponsors to promote local business and encourage local youth. Money that will forever serve as a reminder to these students and the rest of us that they can break the bar.
It was a privilege to bear witness to what they did.
These aren’t the leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today. I want to be more like them when I grow up.
My daughter, Genevieve (on the right), with some of her classmates at their gala event.