Contemplating leadership: Breakfast of Champions with Timothy Clark

The following blog is by Wesley Durham.

who.jpg“Who am I” as a question often feels clichéd, relegated to the leads of sleepy winter movies, to shopping mall philosophers, to those with too much time and too little to do. “Who am I?” I’m an AmeriCorps Member. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m a musician. I’m a hard worker and a loyal friend. What more do you need to know? Life’s too busy for idle identity contemplation. Don’t talk about who you are, be who you are. Or as I tell clients at my site as we’re working on their resumes, “Show, don’t tell.”

And yet, onsite at Urban Ventures on a Friday morning, CEO Timothy Clark reminded us all that maybe there is some room for contemplation. In fact, maybe it’s very, very important. At this YNPN Breakfast of Champions event, Clark spent a large portion of the time taking us from college graduation to taking the wheel at Urban Ventures. He did this not to trace back his ascension to “leadership” in rote fashion, but because taking this tour opened up many valuable questions, questions that can contribute to our own growth if we think hard enough on our own answers. He posed questions like “What do you stand for?” and “Do people know what you are?” Clark had many answers to such questions. Clark defines himself through authenticity. He calls himself a “quiet leader.” He is a “sheep dressed in a wolf’s clothing.” I find that last one amusingly colorful, but also illustrative in its specificity. Clark asserted that you can’t lead others unless you know yourself, and he leaves little doubt that he does.

All of Clark’s self-definitions distinguish his leadership as ever present in his career. Long before arbitrary organizational mantles declared him a leader, he led by taking responsibility of informing a colleague of her termination, knowing his boss would have handled it with a less than sensitive touch. He led by living his character, not his job title. In his own words, “Leadership isn’t titular, it’s organic.”

You don’t stop being a leader when you finish middle school and enter the daunting halls of high school as  wide eyed freshman, and neither do you stop when you complete a service year or even lose a good job and take to delivering pizzas in the meantime. No person or circumstance outside yourself determines your leadership. You get to decide. But make sure it’s an informed decision.

I’m about to begin a second service year here in Minneapolis. Ostensibly this next year is to set myself up for post-service success, to network the heck out of this city, to absorb all the input I can, and more. It wasn’t until this breakfast that I realized maybe next year needs to be one of introspection as well.

So in the spirit of self-definition, let me exercise a little defining of my own, and I invite you to do the same. I am the son of a lawyer and a deacon. I have my father’s sensibilities and my mother’s empathy, and both of these drive me. I don’t yet have a central word as Clark has found in authenticity, but I can find moments of leadership, of character and not titles: when I explained to a fellow club member issues people took with him, respectfully and clearly, no anonymous notes involved. When I've stayed late at a volunteer shift because an event is shorthanded. When I said yes to helping clients with questions I could ignore based on my job description. When it’s not convenient to work for a cause, but I signed up anyway because I can’t just stand on the sidelines and pass the responsibility on to others.

So that’s me. That’s how I lead. How do you?

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