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The Best Leaders are Defined by the Company They Keep

Last Friday, all the leaders of campus organizations—myself included—were required to attend a leadership conference to help strengthen our leadership skills. I’m sitting in the ninth floor of Vaughn, the entirety of UT—Plant Hall, the rising chapel, the roofs of Walker Hall covered in green—stretched around us.
Us, the leaders of UT.

The room was filled with friends, familiar faces, and strangers. Before the conference started, folks munched on cookies and groaned about exams they had taken, or homework yet to be done, or looking forward to a rest-filled weekend.

I, too, took stock of a British literature test I needed to study for and medieval French poems to read. We’re students; we’re twenty-somethings, like everyone else on this campus. Sure we may be better organized and able to write out a check requisition, but what makes a good leader?

The following Monday on Facebook chat, my art editor for Quilt reads the lamentations of my hectic life. She consoles me in her sweetly acerbic way, like my assistant editor did the week before baking chocolate chips cookies, or my fiction editor the semester before regaling me with her wild stories.

I realized then that a great way to tell the caliber of a leader is the company he or she keeps.

Looking at my life, you’d probably think I’m not exactly leadership material. I was the last kid picked for kickball, dodge ball, and four-square; the smart but quiet kid who did most of the work in group projects while the more extroverted members glittered in the spotlight; the one who sometimes wants nothing more than to run away to Rio; the one afraid to fail.

There are innate qualities to leaders like perseverance, kindness and even-handedness. Despite being editor-in-chief of UT’s literary magazine, I wouldn’t be half the leader I am without the staff.

With the hours of work I put into the job and patronizing comments from people who brush us off, the brick wall that I call peace of mind often crumbles, but my genre editors are there to clear the rubble and start anew.
In an odd way, they help lead the leader. They yoke enough stress to understand where I’m coming from with enough distance to properly assess the situation—or at least tell a joke.

They don’t just dust you off when you fall; they hoist you up, pat your back and kick your behind back into action.
Most organizations on campus probably function similarly, at least mine does.

Here’s to my editors and staff in Quilt.

Here’s to the assistant editors, vice presidents, treasurers and staff of organizations that help us leaders shine and strengthen our groups.

Here’s to the folks that may not get the attention we do, but deserve it just as much.

Derrick Austin can be reached at daustin@ut.edu.

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