What does it truly mean to be a leader? In its simplest form, a leader is anyone who has followers, which is technically true. Yet if we simply look at leaders as people with followers, we place Adolph Hitler in the same category as Nelson Mandela. To better understand what a true leader is, a proper scope focuses on the outcomes a leader achieves and the way in which she or he achieves them. The real term we are looking for is quality leadership.

Let’s face it, leadership isn’t easy. It takes a special kind of person to crave more responsibility. You have heard the saying “it is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.” Taking on a leadership role can be messy and difficult. It takes proper guidance and training to create that quality leadership every organization seeks.

Great Plains Technology Center has decided to invest in its future leaders by starting the Aspiring Leadership Foundational Academy (ALFA). This collection of prospective leaders understands that leadership comes in many forms, but it’s the “why” that prompts someone to become a leader. Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why” said, “starting with ‘why’ invariably sets us up to make deeper, more meaningful connections. I have asked some members of our first class of Aspiring Leaders to share their “why.” We will share more of their thoughts next month.

Here are a few for this week:

“When I think of the word leadership, I immediately think of qualities that are associated with being a leader: focus, accountability, confidence and decisiveness. Though each leader that I have worked with or for has had a different leadership style, these qualities are common elements that they all demonstrate. I strive to be a leader wherever I go, which is why I wanted to be a part of the Aspiring Leadership Foundational Academy (ALFA) at Great Plains Technology Center. I feel led to make a positive difference in the workplace. For me, this means offering guidance, building workplace morale, initiating action, and inspiring others. Though my job title may not be considered an institutional leadership position, I can still exemplify leader-like qualities while completing my everyday duties. I feel that the ALFA program has identified employees in non-leadership positions that demonstrate compelling leader characteristics. I believe that it is ALFA’s mission to take each member’s leadership skill set and refine it into real-world practical experiences that members can take back to the workplace. Therefore, I am proud and blessed to be a part of Great Plains Technology Center’s Aspiring Leadership Foundational Academy.” – Jenna Alston

“I have always been the type of person that enjoys teaching others and trying to inspire them to be their best selves. This ideal was instilled in me as a child from my grandmother. When I was in my early teens, she decided to start a leadership group for all the neighborhood kids to keep us out of trouble and inspire us to do our part within our community. We were able to help feed the homeless and less fortunate, gather clothing, toiletries, and canned goods for shelters such as the Salvation Army, and even donated some of our gently used items to Goodwill. I was one of the older kids in the group, so when we had meetings about topics such as how to handle anger or how to accomplish certain goals, I would present on those topics. Ever since then, I knew that was the kind of work that I wanted to do. I want to teach and inspire others to not only be the best version of who they are, but also to give them the tools to pay that forward so that their peers can be inspired to continue that cycle. That experience is a great example as to why I think all companies should invest in their employees to produce quality leadership. In doing that, they will create more individuals, like we did, who could inspire others to do better and create the change they want to see by being that change.” – Tamera Bell

“I have spent the past 18 years working in various aspects of education. I have found when I am able to provide guidance and support to others, I feel most beneficial. Leaders help set direction, build inspiring visions, and motivate and inspire others to work towards a common goal. Leaders should focus on cultivating relationships within an organization, showing genuine care and concern for each employee. In addition, great leaders continually look for ways and opportunities to spotlight others and use others’ strengths to help grow future leaders. When companies and organizations invest in the leadership development of their current employees they will attain and attract top performers, develop camaraderie among future leadership teams, and boost employee morale because growth opportunities are visible. I am thankful and proud to be part of the Aspiring Leaders Program at Great Plains Technology Center.” – Courtney Ferguson

ALFA is Great Plains Tech’s opportunity to define what leadership means within our organization, to nurture and grow the future of Great Plains’ leaders and to utilize the existing leadership qualities found within our own dedicated employees. We believe it takes strong, quality leadership to recognize the needs and potential within our own organization in order to shape our future leaders. Leaders should not only lead, but be teachers willing to offer others the same opportunities and skills they were given so others may also one day become quality leaders. That is exactly what ALFA aims to do: grow Great Plains leaders the Great Plains way.

Clarence Fortney is superintendent of Great Plains Technology Center.