Ben Quinn reflects on some of the lessons he has been taking on board during his time on WIP this summer. Not all, however, have come from the places he expected them to.
This last number of weeks, I have been challenging my perceptions of what leadership is. What forms can it take and what is the best kind of leadership? Do you lead others for your own career and status, or do you lead within society to affect change for the better?
I have found these questions tumbling around in my head at times and there is no better place on earth to explore these themes than in D.C. on the Washington Ireland Program.
I am currently completing an internship with the Impact Centre, a leadership consultancy non-profit. At their office, I have been able to read their extensive literature on what are the characteristics of an effective leader. A fundamental question that keeps circulating through all the critics’ observations is the idea of purpose and how purpose can afford greatness onto leaders. Through the Washington Ireland Program, I have also been introduced to many leaders in varying professions and backgrounds. I have asked many of them – what makes a good leader? Again, certain trends keep re appearing.
A leader must have vision. A leader must be strong in their convictions. A leader must build a good team. They must listen to their team. A leader must synthesise all stimuli and formulate a plan best placed to achieve a final goal. In others words, a great leader must be driven by purpose. The purpose being to bring into focus the desired goals and make it easier for leaders to rally others to their cause.
There are many different insights gained on this summer experience that have been invaluable to me as I prepare for my future career and life. Yet at times throughout the program, due to my age and my status as a student, I have found it confusing as to how I can translate this wisdom into my own life.
The question becomes clearer; what will I do when I get home? Where is my purpose?
On Saturday, at our service day, I had an epiphany. You have to know where to look.
We had an opportunity to attend the D.C. central kitchen and prepare food that would be going to the homeless of the D.C. area. As I busied myself chopping tomatoes and packaging the pasta, I found myself singing along with a friend and laughing about films we both liked.
Then I began to think of the people that the food would be reaching.
What was their story? How did they get to where they were today? What opportunities did they not have? I thought of how much a home cooked meal would mean to me if I was alone and downtrodden, neglected by friends, family and society itself. It unnerved me.
I suddenly felt the importance of the work I was doing. It made me realise, a true leader in society realises that all mankind must be leaders, even in a small manner – to make society a better place. All peoples have the potential to be great, yet circumstance, chance, fate – call it what you will – cuts many down. Society must make provisions for the disadvantaged.
Leaders lead through example. They lead through doing the small things right. Those of us who have been privileged enough to get ahead in life owe it to humanity to help those who did not have the same chances. It can take the form of grandiose schemes of social engineering, but often change is more successful when it is spread organically.
To me, a great leader realises that mankind is naturally predisposition to do good. Sometimes we just need to see it in others to let it flow from within ourselves. True leadership is doing the small things right, which encourages others to put their talents to good use.
One person cannot solve the world’s problems, but they can affect change for the better in small incremental ways and challenge others to do the same.