As summer draws to an end, I think it’s worth posting an update about what I have been up to. First, I “graduated”. Why is this surrounded in quotation marks? Well, while I walked in May, I extended my graduation date to August in order to participate in the W&M Summer Institute Program in Washington D.C. So, after walking on Sunday, I packed up my apartment and headed to D.C. for class the next day. You might think I’m crazy for leaving no real time for transition, but, in retrospect, those first few days were well worth the experiences that followed.
The course was taught by Professor Stelljes and focused on the concept of leadership within the nonprofit context. Throughout this course, we were able to meet and speak with leaders in the nonprofit world. After two weeks of site visits, lectures, and group discussions, we all began internships around the city. Over the course of my internship, I’ve been able to see the leadership we’ve talked about in practice. In addition to this, I’ve been able to speak with those around me about leadership: What characteristics are typical of effective leaders? Are leaders born or made? What do the best leaders have in common?
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that the leaders often see the world in a way that many do not – full of possibilities and only limited by our own imaginations. Leaders share these visions and give others the confidence to aid in their efforts to reach a shared outcome. Leaders are not perfect, but they recognize the need to let others see their imperfections. Leaders empathize with others on a level that seems unimaginable. Leaders come in all shaped and sizes – the extrovert, the introvert, the charismatic, the shy. Being a leader is hard.
As the paragraph above might demonstrate, leadership cannot always be packed neatly into a paragraph. Leadership is multidimensional and multifaceted. Moreover, one’s ability to recognize effective leadership is often subjective. So, let me be slightly subjective for a second. What I have found is that the best leaders are those we might not necessarily associate with typical leadership qualities. Over the summer, I have been most impressed by the quiet leaders; those whose work behind the scenes ensure the success that we see. Often, these leaders shun credit, credit which is often owed. These leaders might not be the most eloquent speakers, but their passion speaks volumes. These are the leaders who have the most lasting effect on me.
As summer winds to an end, I’m very thankful for the experience I’ve had in D.C. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about leadership and the ways in which effective leadership can lead to amazing outcomes. This summer has reaffirmed my belief that W&M is a place where students are given the opportunity to grow into leaders who will go on to do great things in the world. I’m just glad that I got one last chance to hone my own skills.
This entry is cross-posted in the blog of Professor Drew Stelljes.