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How to Make a Leadership Blueprint, from Deanna Zandt

If anyone understands what it’s like to want to make a difference as a woman leader, it’s Deanna Zandt. Coming out of college, Zandt had no idea where her career path would take her. Sixteen years later, she is a successful media technologist who uses her talents and relationships to promote social justice causes.

Zandt shared the lessons she’s learned as an activist to 900 young women at the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

Zandt told the crowd that her original plan was to talk about something all women need to know: how to ask for more money. But after the Isla Vista shooting in which a man killed six people in a self-proclaimed act of “retribution” for past rejections by women,Zandt decided to redirect her message. In a keynote speech that was both humorously candid and emotionally engaging, Zandt laid out a “leadership blueprint” for change-makers.

“Without this blueprint, I think we lose a lot of valuable young hearts in movements around the world to burnout,” she said. The blueprint is a community that activists build, online or offline, as a source of support when working toward their goals.

In the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy, Zandt created the When Women Refuse Tumblr so women can share their stories of the violence they face when they refuse sexual advances. When her Tumblr received a flood of responses, both positive and negative, Zandt could have easily been overwhelmed. But her blueprint enabled her to avoid activist burnout.

“It was a wild ride, and it could have completely swept me away with the tide,” Zandt said of the campaign’s success. “But I had a blueprint, a leadership blueprint learned over 20 years of hard, emotional lessons.”

How can young women leaders develop their own blueprints?

First, build a community of like-minded people who will support you — and remember that it’s a two-way street. “We have to create paths of support for ourselves but also make sure those paths are open for others,” Zandt said. Use online tools like Tumblr and Twitter to your advantage by strengthening existing relationships as well as creating new ones.

Next, Zandt advised having an activation plan so your community knows how to support you. For example, when she was planning When Women Refuse, she reached out to her online networks to see how they could help out.

And if you’re looking for guidance, find a mentor. “Mentors are crucial to moving you through the next phases of your life,” Zandt said. Inspired by Zandt’s words during a Q&A, one woman shared her own story of dealing with depression and asked Zandt to be her mentor. After coming down from the stage to hug the woman, Zandt agreed.

Self-care is the core value of Zandt’s model for sustainable and “thriveable” leadership and activism. Recognizing that many women feel guilty when asking for help, Zandt advised women to “put on their own oxygen masks before assisting others.” Do what is necessary to revitalize yourself, she instructed — even if that means completely walking away from your work.

“That voice that tells you you’re selfish — I want you to ignore it,” she said.


This post was written by AAUW Campus Initiatives intern Haley Francesca Cameron.


By:    June 09, 2014