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Leadership Alchemy: Inspiring Insights from ‘The-Go Giver’, MLK and Saint Francis of Assisi

Leadership Alchemy: Inspiring Insights from ‘The-Go Giver’, MLK and Saint Francis of Assisi

There’s something magical that happens when you blend the wisdom of a good book with life’s serendipitous moments. This rare alchemy came to life for me following a providential encounter with Chris Rapozo at the AMA Higher Ed Conference in Chicago this past November.

I realized I had already ‘met’ Chris a few months earlier by way of listening to a panel discussion about AI and Higher Education Marketing. Chris had appeared alongside our mutual friend and colleague, Bart Caylor of The Higher Ed Marketer Podcast and Caylor Solutions.

Through some conversation and a few ‘hellos’ on the escalator or in-between sessions, it became clear to me that Chris was the type of person I’d enjoy hanging out with if we lived in the same city. The genuine passion in his voice about how much he loved his family and being a father confirmed my hunch that we had a lot in common, as I too was only a few months away from welcoming our second child into the world.

When I arrived back home, I listened to a fantastic episode of John Azoni’s Higher Ed Storytelling University Podcast, where he welcomed Chris on as a guest. In these 52 minutes, I got to know Chris on a whole different level, learning more about his own personal journey as a professional track athlete, German immigrant, overcomer of obstacles, and profound appreciator of education’s value.

The Go-Giver Arrives

A few days later and just before Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and reflection, a book arrived on my doorstep in Portland, Maine’s West End. It was The Go-Giver, a book that Chris had referenced during one of our conversations in Chicago. Needless to say, this made my day as it was unexpected and always a joy to receive real mail that is neither junk nor bills.

The final weeks of 2023 culminated in a wonderful crescendo that, on December 27, resulted in the healthy arrival of our second daughter, Esmé Rie DerSimonian.

Pictured: The DerSimonian Family, 2024

It was during my paternity leave in January, (sharing precious time with my life partner Caitlin and our first-born angel Tsoline) amidst the joy of welcoming a new life into the world, that I delved into its pages. The book’s message about the power of giving resonated deeply, especially in the quiet moments with my newborn daughter, and amid a rare pause from my normal ‘go-getter’ professional routine.

The Go-Giver’s Five Laws of Leadership

The Go-Giver introduces five transformative laws:

  1. Value: True worth is in providing more value than you take.
  2. Compensation: Success is measured by the number of lives you touch.
  3. Influence: Influence is gained by placing others’ interests first.
  4. Authenticity: The most valuable gift is your true self.
  5. Receptivity: Openness to receiving is as important as giving.

What Are You (i.e. WE) Doing for Others?

Like many of you I’m sure, on January 22, my inbox and social media feed was overflowing with inspiring quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the heels of reading The Go-Giver, there was one quote that stood out to me and that I couldn’t get out of my head:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question and The Go-Giver’s Five Laws, we find our true purpose not in self-gain but in selflessly serving others. This philosophy and raison d’etre guides us towards a leadership ethos where success is measured not by what we accumulate, but by the positive impact we create within our own spheres of influence.

For It is In Giving that We Receive

Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most venerated religious figures in Christianity (1182 – 1226) whose teachings continue to inspire millions of people across the world, both within and outside of the Christian faith. He is also the patron saint of my mother, Linda Francis Gerard DerSimonian.

Saint Francis is often quoted as saying, “For it is in giving that we receive.” This paradoxical wisdom captures the essence of a recurring theme in life: that in the selfless act of giving – whether it be time, treasure or anything in-between – we find true fulfillment and spiritual richness. Saint Francis of Assisi understood the wisdom in looking beyond our own needs and desires, giving freely without expecting anything in return, and in recognizing the dignity and value of every living being.

Pictured: Statue of St. Francis of Assisi, venerated for his life of charity and poverty.

In this personal journey of discovery, through the serendipitous meeting with Chris Rapozo, the reflective pause afforded by paternity leave, and the profound wisdom of The Go-Giver, MLK, and Saint Francis, I recognize a universal truth that binds us all. It’s a reminder that the essence of inspiring leadership transcends the confines of time and geography, echoing across the corridors of history—whether through the teachings of saints or the aspirations of civil rights leaders—it can resonate deeply in our hearts as “modern-day” professionals.

At the confluence of these teachings is the reminder that our greatest achievements lie not in what we earn or in accolades received. Our compensation is in the lives we touch and the legacy of kindness we leave behind. The narrative of The Go-Giver, coupled with the passionate calls to action of Martin Luther King Jr. and the spiritual insights of Saint Francis, offer us both a blueprint for success and a call to action to embrace a life of generous leadership. A life where giving becomes the catalyst for receiving in ways we never imagined.

The magic of transformative leadership lies in turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. This “leadership alchemy” can start with the simple question, “What are you doing for others?” And then let it propel us into action.

The magic of transformative leadership lies in turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. This “leadership alchemy” can start with the simple question, “What are you doing for others?” And then let it propel us into action.  – Raffi DerSimonian

My colleagues and I have the great pleasure of working with a number of mission-driven institutions—extraordinary colleges and universities across the country. In that highly rewarding work, I am often amazed by the generosity demonstrated by dedicated alumni and community members. Whether that means “doing for others” in the form of volunteerism, mentorship, teaching, or financial support. The concept of a “leadership gift” often means much more than making a large financial contribution. It can mean a demonstration of commitment to a specific aspect of an institution’s mission, and a motivating action to inspire others to ask themselves, “What am I able to do for others?” That inspiration, in turn, can propel many others into action.


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