This weekend’s Student Activities Commission Fair, “SAC in the City”, gave campus groups of every description the chance to set up booths and recruit new members. A good freshman will have signed up for no less than a dozen e-mail lists, will regularly attend three to four groups’ meetings until Thanksgiving and then by Christmas, will have quietly dropped all but one or two. But joining one or more student groups is still an awesome opportunity. It’s a chance to meet friends, take on new interests and new challenges and inevitably, consider taking on some type of leadership position.

As you may know, Georgetown University prides itself on recruiting, cultivating and producing leaders. While we were still high schoolers, the admissions office wanted to know whether we happened to be student body president, team captain or club leader. During our undergraduate years, we are encouraged to take advantage of the Georgetown Office of Leadership Development. And once we graduate, we will join other alumni who our university president boasts in his official welcome letter, “hold leadership posts in academia, the arts and business, government, legal, medical and non-profit sectors throughout the world.” Sounds pretty impressive, right? And I thought SAC Fair was just fun, food and music.

Through programs, conferences and pamphlets, leadership at Georgetown is a much-discussed, rarely-defined quality which we all supposedly possess and have a responsibility to project. So what is it?

First, let’s talk about what it is not. Leadership is not an office, no matter how high the ranking. The American president holds arguably the most powerful position in the world, but both Clinton and Bush have been accused of following opinion polls rather than leading themselves.

Leadership does not require any particular auspices, such as a place from which to lead. Nelson Mandela led South Africa against apartheid while being locked in prison. The Dalai Lama leads his nation from exile.

And, surprisingly perhaps, leadership has nothing to do with whether anyone is following you. Some of history’s darkest figures had multitudes of passionate followers. Some of the greatest spent most of their years with few or none. Jesus lived a simple life until he was nearly thirty. When Muhammad first saw God, he had only his wife to believe him.

Leadership is a slippery fish, but we should not abandon it entirely. We just need to step back.

Instead of preaching this intangible concept of leadership, we should redirect our focus to leadership’s four necessary components: self-knowledge, honesty, integrity and concern for others. If I try to visualize myself simply becoming a better leader, I can’t do it. Leadership is too muddled of an idea. But if I try the same exercise for each of these four components, it is much easier. I realize how I might begin critiquing and improving my abilities to know myself better, be honest, stand firm for my beliefs and care for other people.

A big part of self-knowledge, and one that is especially true for Georgetown students, is being patient with yourself. As my grandfather used to tell my Dad, “My boy, a man has to know his limitations.” Georgetown clubs can be set up with all the pressures of real businesses – board meetings, annual elections and even budgeting. Sometimes we forget that we are people first, students second and only then, club officers or presidents.

Honesty and integrity can be similar traits, but I tend to think of honesty as saying and doing what you believe in spite of yourself and integrity as doing and saying what you believe in spite of others.

When I was a boy, my Mom sometimes told me stories about her childhood. All too often, I felt, she would make reference to how she was popular at school. Annoyed, I told her, “Mom, that’s great, but not everyone can be popular.” She replied, “There’s no secret to being popular. All it is is taking an interest in other people’s lives.” In discussing concern for others, I could mention the Golden Rule, giving the benefit of the doubt or putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, but I think her adage is much more insightful.

Sean Hawks is a senior in the College.

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