3 leadership lessons from Humans of New York and Mott Hall Bridges Academy

What happens when the untold story of a quietly impactful leader becomes the subject of a widely-read platform like Humans of New York? In one particular case, through a flurry of hearts touched, comments shared, and ideas birthed, what has emerged is a movement with social impact.

Recently, HONY founder and photographer Brandon Stanton shared a photo of Vidal, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy who expressed his principal’s strong influence in his life. Inspiring nearly 20,000 people to comment, Ms. Lopez’s reach went beyond the students at her school to countless others who were inspired and encouraged by her words and actions. The comments called out desires to have more people like Ms. Lopez in the world, to strive to be (more like) Ms. Lopez, and to take action to help.

The conversation continued and the ideas mulled about led to the creation of a widely successful fundraising campaign to help sponsor trips to Harvard (over $1 million so far!), and prompted us to reflect on a few things we noticed about this remarkable story:

Being a great “you” causes others to notice, even if you’re not aware of it (and even if you doubt it).

Ms. Lopez was being Ms. Lopez before her HONY success. While Vidal may have been the one approached by Stanton, most likely there are many others who, if asked about Ms. Lopez would speak of her in the same way.

That being said, she mentioned that she sometimes doubted her work, often to the point of wanting resign. But hearing people from all over the world not only wanting support Mott Hall but also wanting to know more about the great work going on her school was another reminder that you have an impact on others…even when you doubt it.

What seems “simple” or “small” can actually have a major impact.

Vidal shared that Ms. Lopez would have each student stand up and tell them that they matter. Perhaps that action takes a mere 10 seconds per student, but can imprint each one’s life greatly. Similarly, a fundraiser got off the ground from the question, “What resources does Ms. Lopez need to better serve her students?” The inquiry required minimal time to ask but led to big impact, resulting in a campaign that raised eight times more than its goal in less than a week.

Sharing stories of how others take action can spur on more action and remind others that their work matters.

Once Stanton spent more time in the school, speaking with staff members, one thing that became apparent was that many of them had a person or a moment that reminded them to keep going. What if we captured these moments and shared them more widely? HONY has become a powerful platform for these kinds of stories, but how often do we tell people that they have had an impact on us? It’s a reminder that when you see good taking place in the world, share it. It is when we spread the message or the experience that others are driven to emulate or help.

The success of this story suggests that there are so many more untold tales of quietly impactful leaders, many of whom we may know nothing about (yet) and that we can affect others even if we doubt it.

Have you been following this story? What are your reflections? Chime in below.

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I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.
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  1. This is such an incredible story. It brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for commenting on it from another perspective.

    1. No problem, Robin! Thank YOU for sharing!

    • WEG
    • January 30, 2015

    Brandon Stanton and HONY has done such good in this world, if only to open our eyes to the fact that everyone has a story and the world isn’t as big as it may seem. His work in Africa and the Middle East last year brought about better understanding of what people there are experiencing and perhaps, for a few moments at least, made us think of others outside our own insular lives.

    1. Thanks for commenting! We love his work, too!

  2. What an amazing and moving story! Thank you for sharing it. This is the butterfly effect taken to the next level using technology. 🙂 Being on the other side of the country in a poor, rural area in Northern California, I find myself regularly wishing that we could implement tools such as this with similar impact. Together, we really can make the world a better place! This story gives me hope and motivation! Thank you!

    1. Well said, Michelle! And we’ll keep an eye for stories that benefit your community, too! We know good work is being done all around us and we all win when we can connect and learn from each other!

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