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Being a Leader Might be Easier than You Think

I have never really considered myself to be a leader. But I’ve never considered myself a follower either. I guess I’m just me.

One example I can share is my choice of fashion in middle school and high school. I’ve always been a fashionista – I should’ve had a onesie that said “No bellbottoms for this baby!” Ask my Mom! Oh the battles we’ve had over clothes! Late 1970s clothes were just not my style.

I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to wear, and for what occasion. In the 1980s and early 1990s, I can remember pouring over Seventeen and Young Miss magazines, and taking note of all the latest fashions. As we all know, those magazines were highlighting clothes that basically nobody wore but the models in the magazines themselves – or well … me.

Most girls in sixth grade wore jeans, t-shirts and Keds to school. Not Mandy – every day I dressed as if I’d be sashaying down a catwalk – instead of walking the dingy halls of junior high. I had to wear the latest Guess jeans, and of course had to have a Swatch watch and high-top Reebok sneakers with velcro and shoelaces. And that was dress-down day.

I mostly wore suits or dresses, and one time I even copied Brenda from “Beverly Hills 90210” and wore a tie and a men’s shirt to school. And I can’t forget about the time when I tried to bring back mod 1960s fashion by wearing Pucci-inspired pants. Then there was the time when I thought jeans with chaps were way cool. Or how about babydoll dresses over leggings with Sam & Libby ballet flats?

While all of these clothing choices might sound really bizarre, looking back, I realize that I was unknowingly taking risks and showing people that I wasn’t afraid to be myself. I seriously doubt my daily “fashion show” made much of an impact on others, but I did get compliments on my outfits. There was the occasional mean comment, but those were mostly from boys who didn’t know a sock from a bowtie.

After all that, here I am. I definitely still love clothing, shoes, jewelry and purses. But that obsession isn’t as pressing as it once was. I definitely believe that one should dress to impress. However, looking put together (even if your outfit is from Target) and having a great personality has a lot more to do with your success than sporting the latest Coach bag or Jimmy Choo shoes.

In my career starting at the Florida Dental Association when I was still in college, and now as I celebrate my five-year anniversary at the Florida League of Cities, I feel as if I’ve been given opportunities to be a leader, and for that I am so appreciative. Maybe I don’t have the word “leader” stamped on my forehead, but there have been people who have seen my potential and let me run with it. Sometimes I’ve done a fabulous job, and sometimes I haven’t. That’s just part of the ebb and flow of finding your way.

Whether in a leadership role or not, my motto is to be proactive. Once you set something aside, more than likely, you will forget about it, or lose that spark that you had while you were discussing the project. Another thing – be enthusiastic and excited about what you’re involved in – even if you really aren’t. You might find that you weren’t interested in something before but later realize how much you really love the project down the road. Opportunities usually don’t knock on your door twice!

And something I promise you shouldn’t forget: don’t ever, ever forget to smile. Don’t look like a smiling fool, but a genuine smile shows people that they matter to you and that you really care about what you’re doing. Back in my early days at the League, one of my co-workers whom I didn’t even know knew my name, told me that my smile is “infectious” and that it inspired him. Talk about a major compliment!

You just never know how your actions and attitude affects others, and you never, ever know who is watching. Believe me, I have been put in my place and have certainly made mistakes. But I am really grateful for people who look out for me and lovingly correct me. And I’m also thankful for the mistakes I’ve made. For one, I’ll hopefully never make them again and secondly, mistakes are the universe’s way of giving you a good reality and ego check.

I just try to do what feels natural: dress in a way that is a combination of professional yet stylish; be friendly and treat everybody with respect; take on every project as if it is the best project I’ve ever heard of (even if it isn’t) and yes, always, always, always smile (even if you’re having the worst day of your life). Sometimes all these things work well for me, and sometimes I fall flat on my face. It’s just part of life. But everything I do, no matter what the outcome, I take it as a learning experience and keep moving forward.

Through all these experiences – from the fashion faux paus to the amazing successes, here’s what I’ve learned: being myself in every sitution is the best strategy I can think of, and one that I’ve been using for a lot longer than I realized.

><(("> Mandy Stark

Mandy is a ><(("> Friend of Catch Your Limit, a marketing firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To contact Mandy email her at or to learn more about Catch Your Limit, visit

Posted in Leadership.


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