How I Lead: Renee Bracey Sherman on "Everyone Leads"

How I Lead: Renee Bracey Sherman on "Everyone Leads"

In today's post, YNPN member and Public Allies alum Renee Bracey Sherman shares how the idea that everyone leads has impacted her life and work.

On the first day of training for Public Allies, we were told, “Everyone leads.”

This felt like a radical notion for many – we’d been socialized our entire lives to believe that there are born leaders and there are followers. Over the next two weeks we would absorb something new: we could all lead and become an agent of change in our own way, and each way is powerful and necessary. This empowering way of thinking about leadership reminds us that everyone has something to add, and that our experiences, struggles, and skills inform how we move through the world and are all valuable.

For too long, I felt that I didn’t have a fancy enough résumé, wasn’t as experienced as the person next to me, and just wasn’t smart enough. It was the mentality that we must have everything and be everything that kept me from reaching my full potential as a leader. It kept me from learning from my successes and my mistakes. It kept me from leaning in to risk – which is where the best learning happens. Public Allies taught me to let that go.

At the end of my time in Public Allies, I wanted to continue to be of service to others, meet new people, and continue to grow professionally – so I applied for the Young Nonprofit Professional Network San Francisco Bay Area (YNPNsfba) Board of Directors. I was terrified. I’d never served on a board before and all the worries of not being ‘enough’ came rushing back. But when the current board members interviewed me, they explained that YNPN was a place where we could grow and learn together. We could (and would) share our skills and talents in service of other nonprofit professionals looking to make friends and learn something new.

When I was offered the position on the board, I was thrilled. I immediately took on the leadership role of secretary and learned the ropes. And in my second year, I was elected the board chair. Again, my feelings were in that sweet spot of excited and freaked out.

We were about to embark on a new strategic plan, overhaul our volunteer system, create a new website, and revamp our budgeting plan – all things I had absolutely no experience in.

For a few weeks I thought about how I had seen other people take on these tasks. How did they do it? What of their models could I copy? But none of it felt right.

And then I remembered what Public Allies taught me: everyone leads.

Everyone leads in their own way and I needed to figure out my way. I realized that I didn’t have to do any of the projects alone. I had a wonderful team that I could lead on and partner with. I had a core of brilliant volunteers who offered up ideas on where they wanted the organization to go. We held strategy sessions where we took in all ideas and merged them together. We collaborated, shared resources, and most of all – had a ton of fun doing it. It felt right, and we were able to exceed all of the goals we set and do more!

That’s when I learned the biggest lessons of all: I am enough, and I lead best when I have brilliant minds that excite, invigorate, challenge, and of course make me laugh, in the room.

It is now how I lead my life and career – through collaboration, empowering brilliance, and a ton of joy. It is enough and it is all I need to lead. How do you lead?

Renee Bracey Sherman Renee Bracey Sherman
Renee Bracey Sherman is a Public Allies Bay Area ’11 alum and served as the board chair of YNPNsfba. She is a reproductive justice advocate and a writer with Echoing Ida, a project of Forward Together. Her writing has appeared on,, and RH Reality Check, and been heard on the BBC World Newshour.

She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration from Cornell University, where she also serves as the editor of the Cornell Policy Review and communications chair of Women in Public Policy. Follow Renee on Twitter at @RBraceySherman

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