Leadership without perspective is not leadership that truly seeks to serve.
Incorporating perspective is vital to the flourishing of community that contains leaders that are diversified and inclusive, and this begins with the support of leaders who exemplify the minorities they seek to elevate.
Seattle Pacific University is fortunate to have Ineliz Soto-Fuller as lead of admissions because she is a leader whose sole motivation for success is wrapped up in the success of her students, and the unity and diversity of her team.
We all want to excel in the things we do. Sometimes this pressure is reinforced by our own ambitions, and other times it is unconsciously vocalized in the pressures we feel from our friends, family and peers.
Vocational, personal and career-centered pressure are engulfing, demanding that we perform, lead, be outspoken and courageous at every level.
Ineliz Soto-Fuller thought that she would be a doctor one day, but realized that the medical field simply wasn’t her passion. Instead, it was a pressure she had ingrained into her mind to believe to be the epitome of success.
Soto-Fuller is a first-generation college student who always had a passion for working with underprivileged students. Junior year of college, Soto-Fuller found out about AmeriCorps, a national program that pours into the lives of local communities through aid and volunteering, and then quickly took the opportunity to step into a role which would allow her to foster new relationships and mentor underprivileged kids in Tacoma.
Many of the kids that Soto-Fuller would mentor and tutor were also students she corresponded with through Young Life, which happened to be held in the same building students gathered to receive assistance with school work, making the entire process of connecting and relationship building organic.
Quickly Soto-Fuller realized that the cultivation of young people’s lives was her calling, not the medical field.
Part of the joy of helping youth in schools, and in Young Life, was the application of mentorship brought through service in tutoring, assisting in college applications and understanding her calling through the incorporation of faith through service, which Soto-Fuller had not always been able to do in her previous career aspirations.
Flash forward to today, where Soto-Fuller is the head of admissions at SPU. She said one of the most rewarding things about her job is genuinely helping students to find the school that will fuel their passions, and assisting students in their journey in higher education.
She occupies a strong role as a motivator, mentor and informed leader that helps students get the most out of their time in college, including making the right decision about where start their experience.
To be a successful motivator and leader for students, Soto-Fuller strives to portray a personally authentic example of what it means to be a woman of color in leadership, and how that does not fit every box that people may assume.
Soto-Fuller promotes openness within her staff, encourages emotions, and verbally affirms her team: “I encourage people on my team to show emotion, they can show emotion. There’s no weakness in showing emotion.”
Once during a meeting, a team member vocalized her own admiration of Soto-Fuller and the impact she has made on her life, specifically in seeing another woman of color in a position of leadership and leading with as much raw transparency and zeal as she does.
Soto-Fuller said that moment touched her on a personal level, because she sometimes forgets how important her own role and place of leadership is and the empowering message it sends to women and people of color all around her, much like the students she tutored years ago when she was deciding between med school and continued outreach.
At SPU, she feels empowered to do meaningful, faith-centered work that matters to her, the kind of work that elevates people’s lives because of the opportunity they are given to learn and ask questions.
Styles of leadership that constitute acting and adapting can often be extremely difficult and heavy to bear because of all the external and internal pressures that preach unrelenting drive in the name of success. To avoid this, Soto-Fuller tries her hardest to maintain a persona that is authentic to her, not a projection of what other people desire for her to be.
Soto-Fuller says that her model of leadership desires to be 100% authentic in the way that God created her to be, which for her means representing her peers, colleagues and community while portraying herself as a woman of color honestly and proudly in a way that changes previous conceptions of what it means for a minority to be a leader.
In her words, “It doesn’t help anyone else if I try to model something else that I’m not. If I’m going to pave the way for other women of color, I need to be authentically who I am.”
“As a woman and then as a woman of color, you have to constantly adapt to situations and people around you, and that is apart of reality, but when I’m with my team I say, ‘This is who I am, and I want you to see that model.’ And for my white staff members I want them to see, ‘Oh this is a woman of color in leadership, she’s different from what I’ve experienced before, and I need to learn from that, and I need to adapt to that.’”
It is because of this tireless effort to serve her community that Soto-Fuller was able to grow as a leader, and envision for herself a role that she could shape, mature and cultivate for the further end-goal of changing students lives, and motivating people of color to rise as she did.
In order for the student body at SPU to be able to visualize their own future, we need role models and adults with greater life experience to model failure in a light that does not shy away from uncomfortability, but instead seeks to distinguish itself in the individual beauties of its diversity.
Student leaders of SPU can learn from Soto-Fuller by asking themselves the question: Does my leadership serve a checklist that merely lists people, or does it seek out those in front of me that need guidance?
To live and lead authentically means that we carefully consider the impact we desire to make across communities, so that we may then tailor an original message of love and service that values the person we are, and the specific talents we hold.
Authentic leadership must be sculpted, deliberate and genuine to our own experiences and aware of the impact they have on those around us.