Over the past year I’ve been working with a phenomenal group of people to put together a brand new, year-long curriculum on Personal Leadership to add to the already outstanding programming offered through Tempe Leadership. We used polls and surveys and all sorts of tools to help us come up with 4-5 key leadership lessons that we felt would have a profound impact on the way our participants develop themselves as leaders and share their talents in the community in a way that reflects their gifts and values. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of leaders to help me create this curriculum, several of whom actually got up and led activities without a set script or pre-prescribed plan. I led the group through an introductory activity discussing leadership values with a deck of values-based cards. Then, throughout the rest of the year, I had Jill Cohen on Personal Leadership Styles; Shereen Lerner on Emotional Intelligence; and Neil Giuliano on Servant Leadership. We had about a dozen different people who had a piece in bringing it all together, but these were my key presenters. I think the whole team would agree that our MVP was Neil Giuliano, who not only provided us with guidance, recources and activity ideas, but also led the class in an entire issue day devoted to the topic of Personal Leadership. It wound up being our culiminating day of the year.
What a treat it is to work with this man. He’s been one of my most admired high-profile people for years, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Neil has accomplished a lot, particularly in politics, leadership, and LBGTQ issues. As the mayor of Tempe, he served as the first openly gay mayor of a city our size, and went on to serve as President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. He’s now back in Phoenix, working as President and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership. But of course it took him years to reach this level of success and his story is very inspiring.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Neil and chat a little bit about life and leadership. Our Q & A is below.
Nancy: Neil, can you please give us a little background information on some of the various leadership roles you’ve held?
Neil: My leadership journey started in high school, when I was entirely unsuccessful seeking student government roles, club offices or formal leadership positions with one exception: New Jersey State Treasurer for Key Club International. That proved pivotal for me, as being involved with Key Club, then Circle K Int’l in college at ASU and then Kiwanis Club of Tempe became a platform for my community service, and then public service, in ways I never expected. In the community I first got involved with Kiwanis and served as Club President, then was asked to join Tempe Leadership, Tempe Community Council Board of Directors, Big Brothers-Big Sisters Board of Directors, ran for city council in 1990 and mayor in 1994.
Nancy: When you talk about leadership, your message always seems to resonate with people on a personal level. How did you develop the ability to articulate the complexities and nuances of leadership in a way that people can really understand and use?
Neil: That ability was likely developed from having had counseling as a minor area for my Master’s Degree at ASU. Active listening, reflective conversation skills, encouragement to action, being inquisitive and open are all ways of interacting, no matter what the topic, that enable others to feel included and valued.
Nancy: You’ve faced some very trying situations while serving in high-profile leadership roles. Some people crash and burn in these situations; you attained greater success and notoriety in spite of it. For instance, while serving as Mayor of Tempe, you were essentially outed as gay at a time when you probably would have preferred to keep that part of your life private. As a resident of Tempe, I watched this situation play out and I also later read about it in your book The Campaign Within: A Mayor’s Private Journey to Public Leadership. I really appreciated that in the book, you allowed the reader to understand the private feelings and thought processes you went through in figuring out how to publicly respond. How did adversity such as this shape the leader you are today?
Neil: I have always found that adversity in our lives challenges us to be better. One either learns from adversity and is determined to work through and overcome it, or it overcomes you and you don’t advance and become stronger and more resilient. As a leader, we are the sum total of our life experiences. Those that challenge us provide greater capacity for empathy for others and their own opportunities to lead and take on more responsibility. The leader who empathizes with those he/she is working with to advance a particular goal will always get more energy, drive and commitment from their team members.
Nancy: One of my favorite questions I like to ask people who’ve served in public office and other high-profile roles, once they’ve had some time to step away and reflect, is: what were the best leadership lessons you learned, the best takeaways?
Neil: Empower others and you will grow in influence; grow in influence and your opportunity for success grows exponentially.
Neil: I plan on sharing key observations and lessons for broadening and expanding ones’ personal leadership development. And encourage everyone to ask themselves “how am I advancing?” because there is no such thing as staying the same.
Nancy: Anything else you’d like to add?
Neil: Everyone can grow and become more valuable as a person, family member, employee, and certainly as a leader. You just have to decide if it is important to you and if so, create and commit to a plan that will make it happen.
Tempe Young Professionals Event:
Free and open to the public
Five Strategies for Personal Leadership Advancement with Neil Giuliano
June 2nd from 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Tempe City Hall – City Council Chambers
31 E 5th St
Tempe, AZ 85281
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