We Are Only As Fast As Our Slowest Team Member

Two WPI student leaders will have their essay published in the third edition of 'Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference'"
November 19, 2012

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The work of Stephen Berselli '13 and Brooke Czapkowski '13, who wrote following their WPI project experience in Australia, will be included in the third edition of  Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, a bestselling text for undergraduate leadership courses to be released by Jossey-Bass next April. The essay by Berselli, who is majoring in management information systems, and Czapkowski a biochemistry major, is one of 38 in the new edition that highlight leadership.

By Stephen Berselli and Brooke Czapkowski

The global leadership opportunities in which WPI students are presented outweigh those of many other students throughout the world. While working abroad on their Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQPs), for example, WPI students are challenged to further develop their leadership skills by addressing complex societal problems as a team. In addition to this work, they must balance healthy living environments/habits and social aspects, such as weekend travel.

As two WPI juniors who completed this project in Melbourne, Australia, we were fortunate to do all of this and learn a priceless leadership lesson in the process. On one of our many weekend excursions, we traveled to Tasmania, where we learned an important group leadership lesson. During a three-hour hike, the group of 11 IQP students soon dissipated into smaller groups of three or four and, in our case, two. As those who were capable of doing so charged ahead, one individual needed to take the hike at a slower pace. Although it was neither convenient nor exciting to stay with this person, the other in this group knew it was the right thing to do.

Imagine yourself in this individual's shoes. Imagine knowing that everyone else had raced ahead and that you were the only one who could not quite keep pace. In this moment you need to take a step back and think about what is truly important—following the crowd because you are capable of charging ahead as well or staying with the person who is falling behind?

As a leader listening to this story, the correct answer should come to you quickly and simply—stay with the person who is falling behind. Of the 10 other people hiking that day, only one of them stayed behind with the one who could not keep pace with the others. This may or may not surprise you. Either way, this story perfectly represents two of the seven C’s from the Social Change Model of Leadership—character and consciousness of self.

Character: It’s often described as "who you are when no one else is watching." Displayed through your words, but even more so through your actions, your character is what you make of it. In today's world, perception is reality. Being aware of your character has the potential to open many doors. Or close others. It's your decision.

The particular person who stayed behind to wait for the slower person demonstrated true character throughout this hike. As a leader, this particular person made a conscious choice to stay behind and wait for the slower person knowing that it was simply the right thing to do. That action represents an honorable character.

Consciousness of Self: Throughout life, it is crucial to always be aware of the beliefs, values, attitudes, and emotions that motivate you to take action in certain situations. Consciousness of self is the key to developing consciousness of others. As a leader, it is imperative to be conscience of not only your own emotions but of the emotions of those who surround you. Just as the words and actions of others can have positive and negative impacts on you, your own words and actions can have positive and negative effects on others. During the hike, the one who stayed behind was clearly conscious of the slower one's needs as an individual, whereas those who sprinted ahead did not exhibit consciousness of others in the least regard.

As students having completed a global IQP, the concept of global leadership was reinstated in our minds throughout this hiking experience. Unlike other forms of leadership, it does not concern itself with being first. Rather, it requires a strength found within one's character to be actively conscious of the needs of others over oneself. On this global IQP, it was the action one took on behalf of the group that truly distinguished character and consciousness of self, consciousness for others.

In your own team settings and preparations to travel globally, remember the words of the one who stayed behind for the other.

To the entire group: "We need to wait. We are only as fast as our slowest team member."