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Eric Termuende  is a recent University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business graduate, and represented over 25,000 Calgary undergraduates as his students’ union vice-president of operations and finance. He is also a director at Gen Y Inc.
Eric Termuende  is a recent University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business graduate, and represented over 25,000 Calgary undergraduates as his students’ union vice-president of operations and finance. He is also a director at Gen Y Inc.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How to lead in the face of a tragedy Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

When tragedy strikes, it shocks us all. When it does, though, it’s necessary that someone steps up and takes a leadership role.

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But taking that leadership role can be so difficult.

Just weeks ago, Calgarians were stunned by a quintuple murder, the largest the city has ever seen. In the initial hours and days, there were more questions than answers. Even as more details were exposed, the hurt people of the city could not be satisfied. These five university students were simply gone forever. And it made no sense.

In these difficult times, communities come together and to do so they require the efforts of many leaders from all areas of society. It’s a time when leadership is essential, and everyone has a part to play.

The dreadful morning of April 15, 2014 is one we will not forget. Media organizations were buzzing, rumours were flying, and confusion and fear spread at the speed of social media through the campus and the community. No one had answers. Families were grieving and thousands of students were searching for answers.

A leader isn’t the first person across the finish line; they are the last, making sure that the others ahead of them are able to perform at their best. In our case at the University of Calgary Students’ Union, we had 25,000 young Calgarians assemble in order to lift the community because that was what was needed most.

What most people don’t know is that everyone played their role that day as a leader on some level. Everyone needed someone to hug, hold, and talk to.

I had to speak at an event that morning. There were 125 people sitting at beautifully decorated tables with an elegant meal sitting in front of them. It was my job to stand on stage, welcome them to what was supposed to be a celebration of a wonderful year, and speak about our collective accomplishments. I remember standing at the front of the room shaking. How did it happen that I was the one who had to address this tragedy to this crowd? What could I say? I didn’t have any answers.

My role as a student leader was to address the issue, express my deepest condolences, and let the guests know that my student association executive team was available to help at any time. That was my role, and in those brief moments, I rose to the occasion.

Immediately after speaking, however, I was shaking and scared. I called a friend, someone I loved, and told her I needed her. It’s never easy to ask, but in a situation like this, she played an instrumental role for me. Without her support, the days and weeks following the incident would have been even more difficult. Even as leaders, you need to know when it’s time to step down from that role for a moment and seek help from others.

Tragedies happen. They are never easy and they effect each person in a unique manner. Nevertheless, these tragedies raise questions. For instance, in the event of a tragedy, how do you respond, and how might others take a leadership role in your own life? The resilience of a community begins with you; every person plays a distinct role.

When unforeseen events occur, rise up and be that leader. But recognize that even as you lead you might need to turn to others for help. Understand that this is absolutely acceptable. I challenge you to be strong and play your part and enable positive change in others’ lives. Leadership starts with you.

Eric Termuende (@Termuende) is a recent University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business graduate, and represented over 25,000 Calgary undergraduates as his students’ union vice-president of operations and finance. He is also a director at Gen Y Inc.

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