Great Leaders are Great Leaders Because of the People Around Them

Wilmé Verwoerd talks about her first week in Washington DC

Wilmé Verwoerd


Applications. Interviews. Meetings and greetings. Name games and dress codes. Sleep. No sleep. More interviews. Deadlines. This was just the beginning. Shopping and packing. Reading. Writing. Thinking and dreaming.

Three weeks later my schedule looks dramatically different apart from the dress codes and no sleep perhaps. ‘You can sleep when you’re dead’ I’ve been told. Along with the phrase ‘early to bed, early to rise’ I fear I might never sleep again. At least for the next 8 weeks that is. But who’s complaining, I’m in Washington DC.

In only 8 days, that is, in only 192 hours things have certainly changed. For one, I have learned that standing to the right on the escalator is law in DC. An unwritten one it may be, but faced with dizzying heights and that look (and shove) you get from a hurried local, no one is going to argue. 8 days later I find myself impatiently muttering ‘tourists’ as I join and navigate the rapid stream of people trying to make it down the escalator and on to the metro.

Finding slower paced moments are rare, eating seems to be a luxury and looking the right way in traffic is a skill I have yet to negotiate. But then when you take a moment to stop, the realization of the enormity and potential of the journey that has begun overwhelmingly confronts you. In just 8 days, that is in only, 192 hours I have been in the privileged position of listening to award winning political analysts such as Mark Shields and EJ Dionne. I have learned how to write speeches from established speechwriters such as David Frank. I have sat before and questioned development experts such as Chris Milligan, a senior Foreign Service officer for USAID.  Journalists from the Wall Street Journal, not to mention White House correspondents topped it all off.

While giving a lesson on project management, Kevin Laudano, the global managing director of Accenture’s Defense group touched upon the idea of leadership and what it means in reality. His words ‘great leaders are great leaders because of the people around them’ stuck with me. The notion that leadership is a privilege also provided food for thought.  I definitely found myself in the right place, surrounded by the WIP class of 2012. And a privilege it is.

After only 8 days, that is only 192 hours, things have certainly changed. I saw my first fireflies and I have been embraced by a new ‘host family’. I even attended my first ever baseball game. A hat, baseball t-shirt and an American hot dog later, I am now officially the DC Nationals new biggest fan.

Tomorrow I begin my internship with Senator Tom Harkin on the Hill. The nerves and excitement have kicked in. 8 days in DC. Now for the next 49.