Jeff McLeod’s quest to work on projects with a positive global impact have taken him across the world and back.
As the Director of the WE Global learning Centre, Jeff oversees programs that use technology to push the boundaries of what a traditional classroom looks like. The 43,000-square-foot community space represents an exciting social revolution in the midst of Canada that enables more young people, in more communities, to make a meaningful impact on global issues such as homelessness, sustainability and water security.
We are so excited to launch a new video series, #NotableYoungPros. We are a community of movers and shakers. We are inspired by each other’s achievements and crave the story behind them. This series profiles impressive young professionals who are living the #NotableLife. Driven individuals who have incredible stories of passion, persistence, ambition and creativity. We’ll touch on how these Notable pros got their start, proceeded to navigate their careers, talk about key milestone moments in their growth and share their lessons learned and nuggets of wisdom. To kick-off our series, we had the pleasure to sit down with Jeff to learn more about his journey from volunteer to corner office. #NotableYoungPros
1. Tell us about how you got your start. Were you always drawn to nonprofit work?
I initially began working at WE while chasing my dream of travelling the world for a living. I took a job as a trip facilitator for two years while leading high school and university groups in Ecuador, China, Nicaragua, Ghana and Kenya. To be honest, I wasn’t originally drawn to non-profits at all (I come from a more entrepreneurial and marketing background). And in fact, I don’t feel so much like I work at a charity right now, aside from the impact that we work towards. WE is run like a serious business (don’t forget, one co-founder has an MBA, the other a business degree from Harvard). But this company does things that get me excited.
2. You mentioned that you began your work within WE as a Trip Facilitator, did you see yourself growing into a much bigger role at that time?
At that time, it was about doing something that fed my fire. I was able to travel all over the world with all expenses paid, earned paycheques on top of that, and made a positive impact on the lives of trip participants while improving the lives of the community members we were volunteering for. That was like the Penta-fecta (or whatever the word for trifecta is for 5). But after two years on the road, my priorities shifted. I’ve been lucky to work in an organization that’s both growing, and very diverse. It’s allowed me to satisfy many of the different career-related goals I’ve had as they shift over time.
3. What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
Never spend more than you earn, and save at least a little bit from every paycheque.
4. What was your biggest ‘A-Ha!’ moment?
The biggest winners are people who are passionate about something. Unfortunately, we haven’t all found our passion. But when something catches your eye and ignites something in you, chase it with wild abandon. Twice in my professional life, I’ve been infected with an idea, and just went after it. I didn’t wait for permission, I didn’t think twice, I didn’t ask for validation — I just got after it. Both times that instinct for passionate action benefitted me, and now I keep my eyes peeled for that moment when I’ll feel that passion again.
5. Are there any mistakes you wished you could have avoided?
Nearly everyone hopes to find great mentors, and almost no one understands the best place to find them: books. Although it’s not the only place, the best mentors in my career have been found within the pages of books. Unfortunately for me I often forget this and have to keep on re-learning this lesson. I wish I had kept that top of mind my whole life.
6. What do you look for in an employee? What do you consider to be the most important attributes when looking for someone to fit into the WE corporate culture?
I want someone who is smart (can’t teach intelligence), a go-getter (it drains me to ‘manage’ someone or to motivate them), and who I like to be around. Those are the first attributes I want. After that, they either need to fill a gap of mine (strengths to compliment my weaknesses) or feed my strengths (make my strengths stronger).
7. What are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10) years?
In my professional career, I’ve been lucky to have found 4 different projects so far that are so much fun that it didn’t feel like work. My goal in the future is to hone my ability to identify projects like that so that all of my days are spent just doing inspiring projects with fun people. Maybe 5 years from now I’ll be living in Colombia or Bali, or Spain working on some cool eco-tourism project with a visionary leader, with my partner at my side. That’d be pretty rad.
8. Based on your experience, what makes a great leader?
I have no idea what a ‘great leader’ is. The same way I can’t tell you what makes a ‘great wine’. But I do know what type of wine I like, and that my favourite leaders all saw something more in me than I saw in myself. They all kept their word and were respectful to everyone. They gave great feedback and were available when I needed them. And they all gave me space to make mistakes and learn from them on my own.
To learn more about all of the amazing things WE is up to, visit their website.