Central Florida is fortunate to have some outstanding purpose-driven public leaders. We just need more of them who are committed, focused and ready to confidently step forward as public stewards.

In the training of aspiring public leaders, there are several challenges we address together through the Central Florida Political Leadership Institute (PLI): what avenue of service should the leader explore—whether that’s preparing for an appointment to a government board or commission or possibly running for office one day? What about the impact on family, finances and career? Is the leader viable before entering the process with a network of advocates already in place?

Given these important questions, one of the most common, and often troubling for the prospective leader over the years, is this: How can I enter the political process and still maintain my integrity with all the divisiveness?

Ready to learn what it takes to become a political leader? Learn more about PLI and apply for the 2021 class by January 8 (it’s free)!

The answer is clear but not easy: commit to your purpose.

Before I go any further, please realize that if you’re not already ethically or morally grounded, politics isn’t the place to figure it out and there isn’t a single strategic tip that will ensure the hounds of temptation won’t break down your door.

What do I mean by understanding your purpose? This goes beyond the well-intentioned leadership goal of “making a difference.” We should all be committed to making a difference.

But something more specific is required. What do you want to do with your leadership? How do you define success before you start? How will you impact lives, improve your community, elevate those around you to do great things?

Be as specific as you can, even if the answer may change later.

In my career, I’ve been incredibly fortunate and blessed to work with elected and public leaders at high levels, especially in Washington, D.C., who maintained their integrity because they were confident in their purpose.

They knew what they wanted to accomplish in politics before they entered the fray and their “to-do” list served as their North Star to keep them from getting lost.

They endured the food-fights that often come with politics because the end result of impacting lives was worth it. And, if you’re a person of faith and feel called to public service, the hurdles are nothing anyway. 

There’s a second reason for a defined purpose: choosing the right path to accomplish the impact you envision.

A few years ago, a member of a strategic leadership program I was teaching told me that her purpose was to address inequity in education funding and so she wanted to run for her local school board. I asked her to examine how much discretion a local school board has over funding decisions and whether her path matched her purpose.

In our next class, she informed me that because the education funding policies she wanted to address begin in the state legislature, she would work her engagement plan and position herself for a state House campaign in 2022.

Recently, in a PLI class, graduates-turned-public leaders Port Canaveral Commissioner Robyn Hattaway and Florida Representative David Smith shared an incredibly important insight for how future leaders can stay grounded.  

Public service, they said, was an extension of their commitment to community service that began well before they entered the political arena. Politics was simply a new venue for engagement.  

For leaders who apply to PLI, leadership accomplishment in a civic, social, faith-based organization or community endeavor is an important criterion for selection. (It’s the second question on our application.)

Quality leaders who enter the program are quality leaders when they emerge. That’s one of the reasons for PLI’s success and why this program continues to make a difference in Central Florida.

It’s the politicians who have no purpose, are in it to make a name, and who believe that politics is a path to riches (it isn’t) that we should worry about. 

Central Florida is fortunate to have some outstanding purpose-driven public leaders. We just need more of them who are committed, focused and ready to confidently step forward as public stewards.  

That’s why PLI exists and why our region is benefitting from graduates-turned-leaders who are serving with a purpose despite the political noise.

Why can’t you be our next great leader?  To learn more about the Central Florida Political Leadership Institute, apply for the 2021 class by January 8 (it’s free) or discover the Partnership’s advocacy and public policy efforts, please visit www.cflpli.org or contact Christine Aponte at Christine.Aponte@orlando.org.