I have a confession to make: sometimes when I read articles about leadership I roll my eyes. It happens mostly when I’m faced with the assumption that everyone is (or can be) a leader. I’ve always disagreed. Not everyone is a leader, not everyone should be a leader and not everyone wants to be a leader. After all, leaders need someone to lead and that necessitates the existence of people who aren’t leaders, right? So when Millennial leader Marvin Mathew began to talk to me about the concept of leadership he almost lost me. Can I be frank? I was just about to roll my eyes.
But boy, am I glad I kept listening. I can truthfully say that my discussion with Mathew got me thinking differently and may even prevent future eye rolling incidents. He convinced me that it is time to redefine leadership. He explains, “We define leadership in a very binary way. Many of us define leadership as the person who takes the reigns and makes the calls. And I don’t think everyone wants to be a leader in that way. For me leadership isn’t just about the person who stands in front or the person who is the loudest, it’s about living a life of purpose.”
Mathew argues that leadership redefined is executing ideas that impact the world. It’s developing a thought from concept to reality. Leadership isn’t merely a role but instead it combines what a person accomplishes and how and why s/he accomplishes it. For Mathew leadership is recognizing your purpose, recognizing how that purpose can impact the world around you and following through. And it just so happens that Marvin Mathew embodies that brand of leadership.
Mathew is a social entrepreneur. He helps create businesses that solve social problems. In his words, “I want to help dreamers do.” While he seems to be an encourager by nature, he shies away from the moniker of motivational speaker. But he will gladly self-identify as a doer. “I lend myself to companies and help them grow,” Mathew explains, “It’s cool to see ideas move from concept to reality.” He wants his clients to do good and do well. He aims to create business models that allow companies to use profits to pay their employees well while doing good things in their communities. But for each client that looks a bit different. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for sustainable success. That’s a lesson he learned when he launched his passion project, BridgeSport.
BridgeSport empowers students studying abroad to provide athletic programming for children in the local community. It was launched while Mathew himself was studying abroad in Rome. The organization was born as a result of two divorced ideas, a random opportunity and a handful of good people who wanted to help.
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When Mathew’s apartment was burglarized just a few days into his time in Rome he and his friends were immediately wary about both the city and its people. According to Mathew, “We chose to study abroad because we wanted to have an immersion experience but that’s impossible to do if you have no trust for the community.”
After the robbery a guidance counselor who knew of his love of basketball suggested that he and his friends reach out to a neighborhood church to find a place to play. When they did, the priest welcomed the friends and invited them to share the gym with local youth who played there after school. In a short time they had forged relationships with the kids, the parents and eventually much of the community. It was a beneficial experience for everyone involved and one that they wanted others to experience. They recognized it to be a scalable idea, expanded into other markets and BridgeSport was born. And while basketball worked in Rome, in Barcelona students play soccer. Mathew explains, “For us it’s about the end user. The experience needs to be tailored to the students.” BridgeSport is a great idea realized and executed in several different, community specific ways.
I’ve felt the impact that sports can have on people’s lives. And now we’re focused on quantifying those results and building partnerships with people who believe in using sports as a tool. There are a lot of opportunities out there, especially in places that are conflict ridden.
BridgeSport is just one idea that Marvin Mathew has taken from concept to reality. It’s just one way he’s grown a simple thought into a community changing program. It’s just one way he’s exhibited leadership redefined. But he looks forward to helping many others find their own success in years to come. When asked how our world might be different if we all embrace this redefinition of leadership his voice lights up as he imagines us all making an impact on our communities. He explains, “We’re living in a world that is hemorrhaging possibilities.”
His redefinition of leadership has me wondering if I’ve been wrong all along. If we’re defining leadership as living a life of purpose while impacting the world, maybe everyone really can be a leader! And you better believe I typed that without rolling my eyes.