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How Everyone Leads Inspires to Transform Community with Public Allies

Public Allies is a national movement that empowers diverse young leaders to create positive social change in their communities. In Everyone Leads, Paul Schmitz, the CEO of Public Allies, shares his insights and stories on how to build leadership from the community up. This book will inspire you to discover your own leadership potential, connect with others who share your vision, and take action to make a difference.

If you are interested in learning more about Public Allies and how you can join or support their work, read on to find out what this book has to offer.


Nonfiction, Leadership, Social Justice, Community Development, Personal Growth, Education, Politics, Biography, Memoir, Self-Help, Personal Development, Management, Culture

How Everyone Leads Inspires to Transform Community with Public Allies

Everyone Leads is divided into three parts: Part One explains the core values and principles of Public Allies; Part Two describes the five leadership practices that enable anyone to lead; and Part Three illustrates how these practices can be applied to various contexts and challenges.

Part One introduces the concept of leadership as an action that anyone can take, not a position that only a few can hold. It also outlines the four key elements of Public Allies’ approach to leadership development: asset-based community development, diversity and inclusion, collaboration, and continuous learning. Schmitz argues that these elements are essential for creating a more just and equitable society.

Part Two presents the five leadership practices that Public Allies teaches and models: (1) recognizing and mobilizing your and others’ assets; (2) creating and sustaining diverse and inclusive spaces; (3) facilitating collaborative action; (4) continuously learning and improving; and (5) being accountable to yourself and others. Schmitz explains each practice in detail and provides examples and tools for applying them in various situations.

Part Three demonstrates how the leadership practices can be used to address some of the most pressing issues and opportunities in our communities, such as education, health, environment, civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship. Schmitz shares stories and lessons from his own experience and from other Public Allies alumni and partners who have used their leadership skills to make a positive impact.


Everyone Leads is a compelling and practical guide for anyone who wants to become a more effective and authentic leader. Schmitz draws from his rich and diverse experience as a community organizer, nonprofit leader, and social innovator to offer a unique perspective on leadership that is grounded in values, relationships, and action. He also showcases the stories and achievements of many Public Allies alumni and partners who have used their leadership skills to transform their communities and themselves.

The book is well-written, engaging, and accessible. It combines theory and practice, reflection and action, and personal and collective growth. It also provides useful tools and resources for readers who want to deepen their learning and apply the leadership practices in their own contexts. The book is relevant and timely, as it addresses some of the most critical issues and opportunities facing our society today.

Everyone Leads is not only a book, but also a call to action. It challenges us to rethink our assumptions and expectations about leadership, and to embrace our own and others’ potential to lead. It invites us to join a movement of diverse and passionate leaders who are committed to advancing social justice and equity in our communities and beyond. It inspires us to lead from where we are, with what we have, and for what we care about.

Introduction: How to draw out natural leadership from you and others

Everyone Leads (2011) turns the leadership conversation on its head, asserting that the corner office isn’t the only place for leaders. It paints a world where leadership is an action sport, open to all, from boardroom bigwigs to the unsung heroes in the break room. This narrative is a rally cry for every closet leader to step into the light, harnessing the power of collaboration and shared goals, regardless of their place on the organizational chart.

Have you ever thought about what it truly means to be a leader?

Often, we picture leaders as those with high-ranking titles or in positions of power. But what if that leadership is really something each of us is equipped to master?

Despite the ancient urban legend that only certain people have what it takes, everyone can lead. That’s not just a little feel-good tidbit; it’s a powerful truth that reshapes our understanding of what it means to guide the way for others.

In this Blink to Everyone Leads by Schmitz, you’ll explore how everyday people have sparked vast waves of change, and how you can do the same. So, ready to uncover the leader within you? Let’s get started!

From grassroots to greatness

Picture the faces of great leaders, entrepreneurs, and social movement organizers you know. Now, strip away the usual imagery of high status and polished Ivy League credentials and imagine young people, women, and individuals from humble beginnings in small towns. The truth is that authentic and radical leadership often blooms in the unlikeliest places – and from the most unexpected people.

The traditional search for leaders with flashy “résumé bling” or celebrity status often overshadows a vital truth: Leadership isn’t exclusive to the elite. History has shown us that many groundbreaking leaders and entrepreneurs didn’t follow conventional paths. They had street smarts, creativity, and a knack for thinking outside the box.

The real question we should be asking is not about where leaders come from but their ability to connect, inspire, and mobilize people toward common goals. Northwestern Mutual Life’s research on entrepreneurship underscores this, revealing that the best leaders often aren’t academic stars but possess qualities like self-reliance and critical thinking. The author’s own experiences as CEO of the nonprofit Public Allies have shown him that young leaders from challenging backgrounds make significant community impacts.

So much for redefining the face of leadership. Now, how do you incorporate the best practices to go with it?

Well, cultivating leaders does not end with spotting potential; you have to nurture them well so they become effective changemakers. Community capacity is key to this, and it’s built by engaging those at the margins. Just look at the Cincinnati-based leadership program called The Strive Partnership. Launched in 2006, the program has been dramatically improving high school graduation rates over the years not by introducing new programs but by enhancing coordination and collaboration among students. This approach, focusing on community building and systemic collaboration, drives sustainable solutions and a higher graduate rate throughout the region today.

Leadership doesn’t just belong to those with the privilege to exercise the upper echelon’s best tools – it’s also everyone else’s right. Not convinced? Just turn to the author’s personal story, which we’ll uncover next.

A zero-to-hero story

To illustrate that exceptional leadership is rooted in community engagement, let’s consider a powerful personal story: that of the author himself. Paul Schmitz started as a self-perceived underachiever in a high-achieving Catholic middle-class family in Glendale, Wisconsin. He grappled with feelings of insignificance amid his family’s accomplishments, leading him down a path of rebellion fueled by substance abuse. Facing a critical crossroads after his sixteenth birthday, he chose recovery, which marked the beginning of his turnaround.

The journey was challenging. Struggling with sobriety and depression, Schmitz pushed through the rest of high school and into college. A pivotal summer in Milwaukee presented opportunities that helped him stay on track: a place to stay with a friend in recovery and a gardening and chores-settling job that provided financial stability. This particular period of his life fostered resilience, nurtured by a growing passion for environmental fundraising and public policy.

Schmitz’s commitment to self-improvement and seizing opportunities led to further academic and professional advancements, including a scholarship to Japan and a fellowship from the Johnson Foundation. These experiences and various jobs across industries paved the way for his eventual role as CEO of the leadership-focused nonprofit Public Allies.

Schmitz’s leadership at the company was transformative, to say the least. While refining the mission and developing new programs, Schmitz navigated the organization through significant challenges, learning from each trial and error. Under his guidance, Public Allies expanded in scope and influence, a testament to his evolving leadership approach.

One of Schmitz’s most notable contributions was recognizing and nurturing potential in others, mirroring his own journey. When Schmitz arrived, he and many other members of Public Allies had yet to see themselves as leaders. His story resonated within the organization, inspiring others to embrace their leadership potential.

Schmitz’s involvement in the Obama presidential campaign further solidified his commitment to inclusive leadership. His rise from humble beginnings to a position of influence demonstrates that leadership potential can really be found in unexpected places.

The narrative of Schmitz’s life underscores a crucial message: Leadership is not the exclusive domain of the privileged few. It is accessible to all willing to confront and overcome their struggles and commit to personal growth.

Leading from the ground up

Leadership isn’t just a top-down affair; it’s a grassroots movement that has shaped America from its inception. This leadership journey is deeply interwoven with the nation’s democratic fabric, technology’s evolution, and contemporary leadership theories.

Consider the American Revolution, where ordinary citizens, like John Parker and his militia, played a pivotal role. Their actions, alongside those of the Founding Fathers, were crucial in realizing the American vision of democracy. This tradition continued through the civil rights movement, underscoring that significant social changes often emerge from the bottom up, driven by the collective efforts of many.

But what about today’s world, where technology and diversity keep redefining the landscape? Technology is critical for organizing and leading change, from local neighborhoods to global issues. While critics argue that online interactions may foster weaker ties, the reality is nuanced. Technology can significantly enhance and accelerate community organizing, as seen in the author’s experience building Public Allies Milwaukee, where he saw social networks accelerating interpersonal, on-the-ground work, instead of replacing it as people feared. On top of this, the rise of the Millennial generation, characterized by a strong inclination toward teamwork, diversity, and digital fluency, is reshaping expectations and leadership participation methods, demanding more collaborative and inclusive approaches.

And then there’s the evolution of leadership theories. Gone are the days when leadership studies focused solely on ‘great men’ – today is a time of more inclusive, action-based models. Take the Servant Leadership model, developed by the late Robert Greenleaf. This model advocates for leadership rooted in service and empathy, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of values-based leadership. Marshall Ganz on the other hand describes leadership as enabling others to achieve shared goals. These evolving theories support the idea that effective leadership empowers communities and embraces collaborative, value-driven methods – moving away from the traditional, elite-focused definitions of power and privilege.

Modern leadership embraces technological advancements and evolving social dynamics, acknowledges the crucial role of community involvement in societal progress, and adapts to evolving theories. It should promote inclusivity, encouraging everyone to lead with the resources and knowledge they possess – no matter where or who they are.

When in doubt, turn to ABCD

Leadership thrives when it orbits around community involvement. Recognizing and mobilizing community assets isn’t just an effective strategy; it’s the cornerstone of enduring change.

This kind of approach enhances diversity, inclusion, and collaboration, laying the groundwork for continuous learning and integrity. In the author’s world, he calls it by a special name: Asset-based Community Development, or ABCD.

The ABCD approach works on the premise that the glass is neither half-empty nor half-full – but both simultaneously. The truth is, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and someone’s weaknesses shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed, when really they can be supported by the strengths of another. When we enter a relationship or community with a full versus empty mindset, we tend to be arrogant at best and oppressive at worst. But if we see everyone, including ourselves, as naturally both half-full and half-empty, we’re able to be more empathetic toward each other – because we know no one’s perfect.

Another key component of the ABCD approach is to avoid rehashing past conflicts to paint someone as wrong and you as right – even if you are right. While tempting, this habit leads you nowhere. We’re all quick to define others only by their faults and failures because we avoid the truth: That people are complex – they’re both empty and whole inside. As the author’s friend, Mark, once said, “You can’t define someone’s life by the stupidest thing they’ve ever done.” Ultimately, we’re all imperfect, contradictory creatures, and that’s okay.

It’s also important to reject the “us versus them” mentality, and instead embrace the idea that everyone is a contributor. In this way you can avoid categorizing people as wholly good or bad – remember, everyone’s complex! When you focus on others’ culpability, you end up deflecting your own responsibility, and you hinder inclusivity and collaboration. Remember that these two traits are the secret sauce of community-driven leadership.

One last tip: When implementing the ABCD approach, focus on assets instead of labels. We tend to put people we believe are wholly good on a pedestal and then get turned off when we inevitably spot glimpses of their ‘empty’ side. Instead, you should remember that everyone, even your mentors, has shortcomings and will fail at something at some point. This way, you avoid unnecessary disappointment and learn more authentically in a community environment that sees the leader and the led as equal.

Connecting across cultures

By now, we know that putting others in charge helps the modern leader sustain their communities holistically. And in today’s increasingly diverse social dynamics, it pays to tap into leadership potential in many unlikeliest places.

The author relies on two strategies to support potential leaders who can bridge societal divides: Diversity and recognition of power dynamics.

Let’s start with diversity. Acknowledging that people come from diverse backgrounds sharpens your leadership skills. By paying attention to the fact that everyone has unique assets to contribute, you’re already increasing community morale. The author employs this diligently in his recruitment approach at Public Allies. The company values potential beyond traditional credentials. They see promise in individuals from varied experiences – it doesn’t matter if they are school dropouts, activists, or people who’ve faced enormous social challenges. And beyond race and gender, the author recognizes that experiences, skills and perspectives are the golden nuggets behind authentic leadership.

By embracing diverse backgrounds, it’s much easier to understand societal power dynamics – which is the second strategy to unpack here. As a modern leader, you need to be ready to address power, privilege and oppression issues. At Public Allies, the author encourages this practice through workshops and discussions where emerging leaders learn to recognize and challenge their biases. A notable example is the Privilege Walk exercise, where participants stand in a line and step forward or back based on prompts about their experiences. This exercise visually symbolizes and demonstrates disparities in privilege and encourages a profound reflection on personal experiences and societal structures.

Embracing diversity while acknowledging power dynamics allows you to foster inclusive, empathetic communities capable of navigating the world’s evolving landscape. As ever newer challenges loom over the horizon, the ability to lean into your natural leadership becomes more important than ever.


Leadership is accessible and community-driven – transcending the traditional bubbles of power, inherited prestige and status. It can also come from unexpected places, as the author himself can attest to, having journeyed from substance abuse to C-suite success. Leading in today’s world doesn’t mean wielding authority from above, but rather empowering others from below while prioritizing diversity and inclusivity. Ultimately, to be a leader is not just about effectively leading your pack but also about learning from them as you progress.

About the Author

Paul Schmitz

Nina Norman is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. She has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Nina has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. She is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Nina lives in London, England with her husband and two children. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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