The Spirit of Leadership

SarahBy Sarah Pope Miksinski – Sarah works at the Food and Drug Administration.  She originally hails from Louisville, Kentucky, and she currently lives in Washington DC.  She has a B.A from Earlham College (1994), and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Oklahoma State University (1999).

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The human spirit. 

I first visited N Street Village in the spring of 2012, and the first word that occurred to me as I walked through the door…”spirit.”  It was over a year ago, but I remember it well.

20130807-IMG_8911I visited N Street Village as part of the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government program, a leadership training program that included approximately 25 colleagues from various federal agencies.  At the time of our visit, my colleagues and I had worked together for about six months.  Our work included various “benchmarks” that exposed us to many types of leadership experiences and provided opportunities to discuss leadership in various venues.

Before we arrived, N Street Village was simply a venue on our agenda – one of many benchmarks and assignments for us as we pursued our training.  And yet, right as I walked through the front doors, I knew there was something incredibly special about the Village: people smiled and issued friendly greetings to us as we literally disrupted their daily routine and invaded their space. Not to mention, the sheer success of the organization’s mission, the commitment of the staff, and the unquestionable importance of the services that N Street Village provides to the community.

As I now look back at that visit, what I remember most is the human spirit in the people we talked to.  I remember their stories, their challenges, their struggles, and their courage.  I remember their willingness to share their experiences without reservation, and I remember their strength and perseverance.  Admittedly, some of the stories were quite difficult to hear.  Women described incredible struggles with addiction, homelessness, and domestic violence.  Others had stories of abuse and/or rape.  Their strength and courage were impressive, and I remember being absolutely humbled and speechless at multiple points throughout the day.

On that day at N Street Village, I learned one of the most important lessons I have ever learned as a leader: the spirit of leadership is everywhere. 

IMG_7585A leader may be the man or woman standing at a podium in front of hundreds of people, the person who directs others in terms of tasks or vision, or the one who possesses the ultimate authority to make high-level decisions.  However, a leader can also be the woman who rebuilds her life entirely from a life of abuse and homelessness, a person who volunteers and gives of their own time to help those in utter despair, the young woman who shares her powerful story without hesitation or remorse, or those who remain steadfast in their commitment to do the right thing for themselves, their children, their families, even in the darkest of times and when it seems that no one is watching.

I will always remember the leadership spirit of the N Street Village community itself – the leadership shown through the quietly dignified sharing of a difficult story, the leadership shown by a simple smile on a rough day, the leadership present in the sparkle of hope in a person’s eyes, and the leadership shown through a quiet and unalienable commitment to those who are enduring the darkest of times.

As I walked the halls of N Street Village on that day, I made a decision: I would give back to N Street when I could, in honor of the incredible spirit of leadership I witnessed that day.  So, as I enter this holiday season, I now take a moment to celebrate the inspiration and leadership spirit of N Street Village.

To the special people at N Street Village:  I hope this is the first gift of many, and it was my distinct honor to meet you all.  Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for sharing your inspiration, courage, and hope with us all.