I shared a story in my first book- an experience I had when I was fifteen years old and attended my first youth leadership academy. The closing keynote speaker shared words that changed my life. Literally.

“There are three types of people in the world,” exclaimed Tom France.

“Leaders, Followers and Critics”, he followed.

Then Mr. France said seven words that set the course for the rest of my life.

“Which one are YOU going to be?”

It was then, in upstate New York at a Rotary Youth Leadership Academy, that I realized that leadership was a choice. That one chooses to become a leader. That one decides not to be a follower or a critic. Until then, I always thought that one is asked to be a leader – or asked to take on a leadership position. Tom France changed my life that afternoon. I chose, then, that I wanted to be a leader.

Many people know my work as a thought leader, business author and speaker. For the last decade, I have committed my career to teaching and inspiring companies and organizations to live and lead differently. To lead from the heart. To value authentic and lasting relationships in the workplace. To see leadership as an honor to serve others, not to be served. To build love and results based cultures that outperform those that do not.

What you may not know is that since I heard Tom France’s words in the summer of 1985, my life has also been dedicated to helping develop the next generation of Heart-Led Leaders as well.

In July of 2000, I founded the National Leadership Academy (initially called Leader’s Challenge), a non-profit high school youth leadership development program that soon became the largest high school leadership program in the State of Colorado. Every June hundreds of high school students from all over the country participate in our Summer Academy and learn to be heart-led leaders.

Shortly after launching NLA, I founded a second organization, Global Youth Leadership Academy. GYLA has taken hundreds of high school students all over the world: Ethiopia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Slovakia, and this summer, Italy.

Both NLA and GYLA have similar missions – to inspire and develop our next generation of servant (heart-led) leaders. To challenge youth with the same question Tom France challenged me thirty-two years ago: Are you going to be a Leader, Follower or a Critic?

If I may, I’d like to share with you the DNA of NLA & GYLA. Every high school student that participates in our National Leadership Academy or Global Youth Leadership Academy walks away with these five values tattooed on their hearts:

1) The four most important letters in leadership: LOVE. Not saying the word, but living the word. That love is the cornerstone of leadership. That serving others outweighs serving yourself. That the most successful leaders and organizations in the world not only understand this, they live it.

2) The four most important words in leadership: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It is about others. Serving others. Listening to others. Understanding others. Learning from others. And loving others.

3) Your life should be surrounded with people that think and believe differently than you. Your friends and colleagues should have different color skin, opposing religious and political beliefs and different economic backgrounds. Diversity is a choice. Choose it and it will make a significant impact on your life.

4) Get a passport. Travel the world. See the globe. Live abroad. Study abroad. Work abroad. Make cities people, not places.

5) To love and serve others, you must love and serve yourself. That self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth are the driving force behind your leadership potential. And a humble, servant heart is the most powerful tool to change the world.

In NLA and GYLA, our student participants learn to become Heart-Led Leaders. They learn to become global citizens. And they are inspired to make an impact in their school, their community and their world.

We have forty spots open for high school students from around the country to participate our 17th annual National Leadership Academy in Denver, Colorado June 22th -25th. To register, please visit: www.nationalleadershipacademy.org.

We have six spots open for 14-18-year-old students from around the world to participate in our annual Global Youth Leadership Academy in Rome, Italy July 7-14. To nominate a perspective student, please visit: www.globalyouthleadershipacademy.com.

What if all people, not just our youth, embraced what Tom France challenged me with thirty-two years ago? What if we all chose to be a leader? What if we all chose to become a Heart-Led leader? What if we all embraced the DNA of NLA & GYLA? We’d not only have better organizations with more profound results, but we’d have a better world. And it all starts with four little letters.