A Positive Leadership Journey

by Philip Wilkerson, University Career Services

A Positive Leadership Journey
Dr. Steve Gladis and Philip Wilkerson

I appreciated how the Positive Leadership certificate program focuses on leading with kindness, appreciation, and service. This approach is very different from my preconceived notion before participating in the program that leadership is purely authoritative. While the term “servant leader” was not new to me, I really did not have a firm grasp on what it meant and how to exercise it in everyday life. Now, I know what it means to me. I “lead” at Mason because I have a firm commitment to be the best servant I can to our students, my fellow colleagues, and the community. I wake up every morning asking myself, “How can I make the lives of others better today?”. When I focus on service, my productivity has increased, my view on whether I am useful is not debatable, and I have been happier.  

2019, the year I participated in the Positive Leadership program, was a transformative year for me. That was the year I really stepped into my purpose and grew professionally. I attribute a lot of that to my coworkers at University Career Services, but also to my focus on well-being and positivity -- not only for myself but for others.  

The Positive Leadership program was a two-day workshop moderated by two amazing leaders, Dr. Beth Cabrera and Dr. Steve Gladis. After this workshop, I felt rejuvenated and reaffirmed in my purpose here at Mason. It helped me develop the confidence and skills to fully use the leadership qualities that others at Mason had encouraged me to develop.  

Prior to when I participated in Positive Leadership, people on campus would come up to me during events and say I exhibited leadership qualities, but I would be quick to dismiss them with statements such as, “I am not a leader. I don’t supervise anyone. I just do my job...”. Two people who encouraged me before the training were Christopher Williams (Assistant Director, MASI, Disability Services) and Ashley Joiner, (graduate student, Social Entrepreneurship). During a University Life supervisor training, I was sitting at a table with these two amazing colleagues and we were discussing what leadership meant. They both called out leadership qualities that they saw in me. Ashley pointed out, “You are a leader because the work you do professionally at Mason and personally for your family and fraternity is rooted in positivity and social change. You serve the community and care about what you can offer your community, as opposed to how your community may benefit you. I see you as a servant leader -- someone highly motivated to do good while humbling navigating your place in the world as a leader to others. Chris told me,I define you as a leader because of your dedication for empowering and uplifting others. From your daily job to your life outside of work, you constantly look for ways to inspire others. You truly want students, colleagues, peers, etc. to do their best and you make yourself available to support them in any way you can.” I valued both of their opinions. Their encouraging comments started the dialogue in my head that maybe I am a “leader” by all definitions as well. 

With this new perspective I went into the training. I was so grateful that the training curriculum focused so much on how to inspire and support others. When it was time to practice certain exercises focusing on gratitude, kindness, and appreciation, I thought “I already do this every day.” As the training continued, others in the class were coming up to me and saying “Wow! You already know a lot about well-being.” This reaffirmed that I have been exhibiting the qualities of a positive leader and can continue to build on that success  

When I got in the car after completing the Positive Leadership program, I cried tears of relief. The self-doubt in my view of myself as a leader had lifted. Leadership isn’t about how many people you boss around; it’s about how well you inspire and help others. I am confident that I do both of those things by working hard, showing gratitude, exhibiting kindness, and helping others. I am a positive leader!   

If you want to focus on leadership from a well-being approach, I encourage you sign up for this program. It really helped me and I think it would be helpful to others as well. If you have any questions about my perspective on it feel free to connect with me at pwilkers@gmu.edu.

Philip Wilkerson is Manager, Industry Advising and Employer Development, for University Career Services at Mason.