By Michael Daschle
Who are you? What’s your story? What have you learned?
It is amazing how powerful and illuminating these three questions are. When I first volunteered to serve on the Peer Perspectives on Leadership Committee, I knew I would have the chance to get to know some fascinating people, but I had no idea how much I would learn about true leadership and the power of a great story.
Over the past year, the Peer Perspectives on Leadership series has included an awe inspiring selection of our peers who have taught us some invaluable lessons on life, leadership, and the importance of knowing yourself and your values.
Those who were selected and chose to speak for the series came from very different backgrounds and embodied a wide range of world views, such as:
Sherif Yacoub, who founded an NGO to educate people about responsible citizenship and politics after the Egyptian Revolution;
Blake Stanfill, who returned home to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild his community and its schools; and
Divya Dhar, a medical doctor from New Zealand driven to increase access to health care in developing countries through entrepreneurship.
While the speakers certainly gave us the gift of their perspectives, in the process they experienced a unique and insightful journey of self-discovery that served as a valuable way to better understand their own stories. What the audience sees on presentation day is the final product of a series of discussions and dedicated time for self-exploration, which can illustrate to us all how to discover our own life lessons.
None of the student speakers in the series asked to tell their stories to the Wharton community. Instead, through informal nominations from peers and faculty, the four volunteer WGA representatives on the committee choose someone who has an intriguing background and who has become known within the community as a leader.
We then arrange a time and place to speak with them and start our discussion by simply asking, “Who are you? What’s your story? What have you learned?” At first, even the most polished, organized and self-aware candidates still pause and wonder where to begin.
This pause for self-reflection is one of the most important parts of the entire experience, and it has implications for each of us as we reflect on our own stories.
Where do you begin and what do you decide to include in your own story? What do you leave out? What kinds of people and events in your life can you remember with clarity? How have they left deep impressions on your character and perspective on life? Have you thought to wonder why? If you had to distill the essence of yourself and what you have learned about life and leadership into 45 minutes, what would you say?
Even if you never decide to tell your story to the world at large, consider at least sharing it with someone close or someone you would like to know better. You will undoubtedly discover that your unique experiences involve universal tenets of leadership, strength and joy that help you connect to others and refine your own sense of self and a meaningful life.
Of course, for those who have listened to a Peer Perspectives on Leadership talk, you know how inspiring the outcome of this self-discovery effort can be. We have learned about leadership through intuition from Stanfill’s discussion about how he sacrificed certainty and returned home. Or, from speakers like Mark Wales, a member of the elite Australian Special Air Services Regiment, we learned a profound appreciation for life’s mission, our teams and ourselves.
Michael Daschle is a second-year MBA student who joined the Wharton community after serving eight years as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan. At Wharton he serves as a Leadership Fellow Coordinator and a member of the Peer Perspectives on Leadership Committee. After graduating from Wharton, he hopes to work in commercial real estate development in New York City.