A group of Wake Foresters gathered at the Porter Byrum Welcome Center on the campus of Wake Forest University on September 7, 2017, to discuss the topic of leadership and character.

Our group began by sharing personal experiences of witnessing character in action, some from their professional lives, some from family or community and some from Wake Forest. Many of us described personal mentors who modeled character in memorable ways. Several themes emerged:

  • Good leaders can navigate all types of people and spaces, giving a voice to everyone. Through this, they recognize that there is “wisdom in the room.”
  • Character is often portrayed by quiet leaders demonstrating small acts during times of vulnerability, theirs and ours.
  • A leader doesn’t just talk about character; he or she puts it into practice.
  • Character is not stagnant; leaders with character grow over time.
  • Traits of leadership include humility, vulnerability, being witness to others, mindfulness, awareness and reciprocity.
  • Leadership is a participatory process; good leaders interact with others, mirror others and are witness to the journey of others.

We then connected the opening conversation to how character can be taught and modeled to our students at Wake Forest. This exchange evolved into a discussion about Wake Forest’s responsibility to community as well as to our students.

  • This is what Wake Forest is — students teach faculty and faculty teach students. It’s a reciprocal process.
  • Leadership and character can be taught, but the real transformation is in the application — modeling and the transfer of learning through a continual feedback loop.
  • Teaching character vs. modeling character — it’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and.
  • Developing character is a collaborative process. We are stronger when we have a mentor on our side.
  • Leadership has traditionally lived in business models. We need to look beyond this model to find leadership in every sector, in every room.
  • Leadership requires reflection.
  • How is Wake Forest showing up for the Winston-Salem community? The values that Wake Forest demonstrates through Pro Humanitate on campus connects us to everyone in our community.
  • In the spirit of showing character, how can the new downtown platform with the medical school provide more resources for all of Winston-Salem?

As a concluding thought, one person in our group shared the “Four Rules of Improvisation,” which can be applied to our lives:

  1. Show up.
  2. Pay attention.
  3. Tell the truth.
  4. Don’t get attached to the results.