The American Express Leadership Academy is a Common Purpose Programme in partnership with the American Express Foundation for resilient changemakers who are addressing complex challenges in the non-profit sector. After attending the Academy in New York City in March 2023, Edu Balmori, Executive Director at The Trevor Project Mexico, shares her experience with us.

Starting a new position in a new organization like Trevor, which is so inspiring yet so different from my previous roles was a big challenge. I was outside of my comfort zone navigating the world of a non-profit and starting to work with a new team, especially after being in a private company for almost 16 years.

But my experience with the American Express Leadership Academy was incredible. I truly enjoyed the activities, the learning opportunities like the one we had with the TED team around building our story and how to master storytelling and speaking in front of an audience, the immersion day visiting inspiring organizations around the city, and more than anything else, the opportunity to connect with new people.

The people there spend every single day working with the intention to create a better world for everyone. Getting the chance to spend time with them and listen to their stories, and having the opportunity to build a community with purpose driven leaders and resilient change makers was the most precious experience for me. From the get-go, the exercises and sessions helped me to reflect on my role, the transition point in my career and helped me to shape my own definition of myself as a leader.

So what have I learned?

Leadership is about behaviours and actions, rather than a title or rank. Resilient leaders are at the heart of long-term change and this journey in the Academy accompanied with the coaching sessions and my own personal work has given me new tools to improve, grow, innovate and connect better with myself and therefore with my team and my audience. 

I consider myself a leader because I believe that being a leader is a decision you make everyday. It’s a decision to be congruent with your true self, to be an example for others and to help people to be at their best. It’s about taking care of yourself and working to move onwards with renewed commitment in what you do and why you do it.

One big piece of that work is being open to learning. Learning not only through books and courses, but learning from everyone and everything. It’s about learning how to learn, and taking those lessons along the way to also share with others. By doing this, we’re fuelling the ability of learning along a continuous moving cycle. Every moment in our lives and every person we meet is an opportunity to learn something new.

Learning is truly a lifetime journey if we are open to it.

Being open to learning that week with the Academy allowed me to broaden my horizons, understand diverse viewpoints and ultimately, it was exactly what I needed to continue in this new path as a leader in the non-profit world - a leader who can continue to lead with purpose and grace and can be brave enough to lead outside my comfort zone.