Leadership & Character | Winston-Salem, NC

Leadership can be displayed by overcoming personal obstacles in order to contribute to the community in nontraditional ways.

Character is often portrayed in seemingly small things done everyday, like standing by one’s word with regard to a service contract, or blowing leaves off a neighbor’s yard.

  • We heard some remarkable stories of the individuals behind corporations stepping up to help those affected by the recent storms: the furniture store owner in Houston who opened his store to the community, and hotel staff and executives who acted heroically and generously on behalf of their guests. These were examples of forgoing profit for compassion and impact.
  • How do we integrate leadership and character into our everyday lives? One person pointed out the irony that in some arenas, the Wall Street Journal guides decisions six days of the week, while the Bible might be someone’s moral code only one day of the week.
  • David Brooks writes about “resumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues” — external achievements versus living a morally-centered life. Some people lead an exemplary life made of both types of virtues. This led to a discussion about quiet contributions —making an impact without expectations of public accolades – “peacocking” versus doing things quietly.
  • “Character does cost.” Some people exhibit character and make significant contributions at a huge price — losing their families, their health, or their wellbeing.

Many people cited personal or professional mentors who exhibit character and leadership. These mentors don’t have to be older; we can learn from examples of character in young people, even those who are disenfranchised and show courage through adversity.

We then connected the opening theme to how character can be taught and modeled to our students at Wake Forest. Comments included:

  • Modeling leadership and character can come from “positive collision moments” on campus — serendipitous interactions between people that inspire desired behavior.
  • The focus on sense of belonging and wellbeing at Wake Forest will inspire positive leadership moments.
  • How can we encourage students to focus on eulogy virtues? One exercise used with students is the “funeral exercise” —asking them to articulate some thoughts about what they’d like to hear as their eulogy, and then asking if they are living that life now.
  • The hope is that Wake Forest will stretch students beyond their comfort zone. They may arrive with a strong sense of character, but this is tested in new ways during their college experience. We hope that students graduate with an understanding that it’s okay to entertain two conflicting viewpoints simultaneously.

Concluding ideas

  • The meal was concluded in agreement that the event provided a meaningful opportunity to talk about important subjects. The group was grateful that Wake Forest is providing this forum to its alumni family across the country.

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