Daniel Wienecke is an inspirational leader who has made a difference in his community and in United States. As Program Manager for WorldDenver Daniel has achieved milestones for the leadership and cultural program. Honored with the “Programmer of the Year” Award Daniel Wienecke embodies the qualities of an inspirational leader by going beyond serving others and helping others succeed.
Daniel Wienecke is a Colorado native who received his M.S. in Political Science from Illinois State University and his B.A. in History and Political Science from Colorado State University.
Daniel Wienecke has traveled overseas to make a difference in the lives of many abroad. He served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan where he worked at a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering youth leadership development and volunteerism. He also studied at the University of Economics at Prague, Czech Republic, acted as Resident Director in Kirov, Russia where he coordinated cultural and linguistic exchange programs through the American Councils for International Education; and acted as the Program Coordinator for the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Daniel Wienecke continues to make a significant contribution to his community, to the nation and to the world at large. In the following exclusive interview with NY Elite, Daniel Wienecke talks about values and principles of leadership.
Interview with Daniel Wienecke
NY Elite: What was your first job and what are you currently doing now?
Daniel Wienecke: When I was 16, my first job was cutting grass full-time at a golf course. At that age, it was the perfect job: I spent 40 hours each week working outside developing a nice “farmer’s tan” and getting to see the sun rise each morning on Pikes Peak (a 14,000 foot mountain located to my home town of Colorado Springs).
Currently, I work as the Program Manager at a non-profit organization in Denver, Colorado called WorldDenver. My main responsibility is to coordinate programs for the U.S. State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). Participants in this program are hand-selected by U.S. embassy staff from countries throughout the world to participate in a three-week long professional and cultural exchange program where they meet with professionals and citizens in usually 3 to 5 different cities across the U.S. I was extremely honored in my first year on the job to be one of three finalists for the “Programmer of the Year” Award.
I am passionate about leadership, being someone others respect and admire, having a sense of humor, creating the space for honest and genuine dialogue, for guiding and mentoring others, and for being the person who connects and encourages others. Ultimately, I am a people person and I love to see people succeed and be happy.
NY Elite: What projects have been your favorites that you have been a part of and why?
Daniel Wienecke: In my position coordinating the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), I have the honor of not just meeting each year with hundreds of impressive international visitors, but being the person who connects the dots by putting together what I hope are meaningful, memorable programs. Every group is unique, so it is not fair to claim favorites, but one group in particular stands out. In July 2015, we hosted a group whose theme was “Enhancing the Lives of People with Disabilities.” I was honored to send these visitors to a public ceremony at Denver’s Civic Park commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They also met with members of an organization who led peaceful protests to make Denver’s buses wheelchair accessible and where treated to a performance by “Phamaly” – a theater troupe consisting of actors with various disabilities.
Another favorite project related to this one took place over ten years ago when I was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer serving in northern Kazakhstan. While working at a youth non-profit organization, I was connected with an orphanage for children with disabilities. Initially, what started out as me visiting this orphanage a few days a week to play with the kids turned into me inviting local high school and university students to join me. Seeing the children at the orphanage play games and make art with local students is one my favorite memories.
NY Elite: What was the most significant change you brought about in a project / organization?
Daniel Wienecke: Sometimes it is hard to measure change instantly; it usually can take weeks or years before we really know the outcomes of our actions. But one thing I am particularly proud of is seeing the success of young adults who I trained, supervised and managed during my time as the Program Coordinator of Education for the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC). GYLC is a 10-day long conference where groups of about 200-400 U.S. and international high school students learn leadership skills through hands-on activities, speaking events and site visits in Washington, D.C. and New York. I was responsible for a staff of 16 facilitators, who in turn, each had their own group of 25 students. One of my mottos is “your success is my success”, so for me it has already been a tremendous source or pride and inspiration to see my former employees go on to do great things on their own … many of which followed in my footsteps.
NY Elite: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
Daniel Wienecke: Serve others by caring about their well-being. Most of my past jobs have involved me directly serving others in an educational, organizational or administrative capacity. Whatever the task or project, if I keep the well-being, intellectual or social-emotional growth of others at the forefront of my mind, I’m doing the best to not only help them develop and reach their goals, but I’m hopefully improving myself in the process.
NY Elite: What are the most important values and ethics of a leader?
Daniel Wienecke: Compassion. Honesty. Integrity. Vision. Communication. Sense of Humor.
NY Elite: How can one improve their leadership skills?
Daniel Wienecke: Improving one’s leadership skills is an ongoing task … and one that is never fully completed. For me, I draw inspiration from a variety of places: friends and colleagues, inspirational lectures, books, history and current events. The key, really, is never to assume you’ve “arrived” at having everything you need to be the perfect leader. Rather, take the time to reflect on what you already feel that you do well and write down those things in a notepad (yes, sometimes it is nice to visually see your strengths in writing – it is also nice to do this for others as it helps them develop and be aware of their own leadership skills).
NY Elite: What is your advice for those who would like to reach higher in their career?
Daniel Wienecke: Do not give into despair. I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished both professionally and personally, but none of this was a linear path and none of it was guaranteed. Nor was it necessary where I thought I would end up. It is easy to give into despair when we feel like we are not where we should be (everyone has done this and don’t trust anyone who says otherwise). There is a Buddhist saying, “Find what you should be doing and do it.” Even if you are not where you think you should be, don’t give into despair as that type of thinking only hold you back.
NY Elite: What are you an advocate of? What are your life passions?
Daniel Wienecke: I am a strong advocate for encouraging civil discourse. By this, I simple mean that we as humans living in a society, need to be able to effectively communicate with one another about our differences without demonizing or demeaning those we disagree with. I kept this philosophy in mind when I was teaching Political Science courses at a community college in politically polar Colorado; it is a mindset I think has served me well in my travels, adventures and interactions with others.
In my current position crafting professional exchanges for international visitors, I want them to know it is okay not to like or agree with everything they see in the U.S. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, I told my friends that life in the U.S. was not better or worse, just different. And when I was supervising a group of well-educated, and dedicated, facilitators in Washington, D.C. and New York, I instilled in them that are job wasn’t to “find the answers”, but to encourage the asking of intelligent questions.
NY Elite: What/who inspires you?
Daniel Wienecke: My first, greatest, and continued source of inspiration is my dad. My whole life he has been a role model to friends, family and those he serves. Though our professional roles are dramatically different (he is a Financial Advisor), I’d like to think he and I both have the well-being of others at the heart of what we do.
My other inspiration is nature. Naturalist and philosopher John Muir said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” I love being with people and serving them, but I get a sense of rejuvenation, inspiration and renewed purpose when I’m hiking in the mountains or walking through a forest.
NY Elite: What are five characteristics that make successful leaders?
Daniel Wienecke: Integrity. Flexibility. Vision. Enthusiasm. Reliability.
NY Elite: What are your future plans/goals/projects?
Daniel Wienecke: I spent a significant portion of my 20s living overseas or outside of Colorado involved with various short-term projects. As a newlywed living in Denver, my plans are to stay here (at least for awhile) and commit myself to being happy and successful in my life and work. While I am very proud of my achievements managing the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) in Denver, I also know I have a lot of room for growth and improvement.