Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vince Costello:
Director of International Services
Cincinnati Area Chapter American Red Cross

Bio: Vince Costello has 34 years of tracing experience and is an expert in family reunification. He has served as a disaster welfare inquiry officer (DWI) on numerous national disasters, including five hurricanes, four floods and the Oakland Hills, Ca. Fire in 1991. As a DWI officer, Costello is responsible for locating and determining the health and welfare of immediate family members affected by a disaster. Costello began his career with the American Red Cross as a volunteer in college. He progressed steadily, serving as a casework specialist, casework supervisor and director of Social Services, a position he held for 13 years. His passion for International Services led to his appointment as Director of International Services in 1999. The position and the department were created in 1999 after he returned from Kosovo/Macedonia where he served with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a Tracing delegate in the Albanian, Serbian, and Roma refugee camps.

FCL: How would you define a leader?
Vince: A leader is a person that inspires others to do the best they can, is respectful of people’s values, makes the hard decisions, and accepts responsibility for the results.

FCL: Who are your biggest influences as a leader?
When I think of those who have had influence on me I think of those who have enabled me to be who I am today. I would have never accomplished what I have without the help, guidance, encouragement, and patience of people who have been a part of my life. That includes those who have taken an interest in me as a person, accepted who I was in spite of my short comings, and believed in me at times when I didn’t believe in me. I could not name them all for fear of leaving someone out. I will tell you that no one becomes a leader without the help of others in their lives.

FCL: What gives you the greatest joy in being a leader?
Seeing the effect I have made on those that I have worked with. It may sound corny, but seeing how people have benefited from what you have shared with them is really valuable to what I do. I had people in my life that made a difference in how I came to be what I am today and I hope I can be thought of in that way because of what I may have done for others that I have had contact with during my career.

FCL: What is your biggest pet peeve as a leader?
People who do not take responsibility for their behavior really irritate me. We all make mistakes every day. I make a least a dozen before noon each day. We learn by our mistakes and grow. People need to take risks and when they do they make mistakes, grow and learn form their mistakes. It took me a long time to realize that myself, and I guess now that I realize how it prevented me from growing I hate to see others make that same mistake.

FCL: What is your biggest challenge as a leader?
I view a leader as a person that empowers others around them to do the best they can. I don’t have all the answers and never will. I want those that have ideas to express them and bring them to the table. In the past I have seen people complain about what they don’t like about a situation, but will not make any move to change it. Then there are those that want you to give them the answers. I may have my answer but it is just that my answer. People need to find their own answer and put it out, whether good, bad or indifferent. Getting people to take ownership of their environment and their lives is so important. Giving me a solid plan that you believe in is better than me suggesting a plan that I have come up.

FCL: Who has impacted you the most in your life as a leader?
Vince: There have been many people who have impacted my life at different times and it would be unfair for me to single out just one as different people impacted me in important ways through different stages in my life. I would not be doing what I do today and have accomplished what I have without the help of a few very devoted people who I would consider leaders and who were a major part of my life as a very young child. At six months old my parents were told I had Cerebral Palsy on my entire left side which affects my motor and speech skills. My parents were also told I might not ever walk or talk. Because of the devotion of the staff at the Cerebral Center in Bergen County New Jersey who worked with me five days a week until I started school and later I never saw myself as being different or unable to do anything a “normal” person could do. They encouraged me every day to do my best and I would have never been able to believe in myself the way they did if it had not been for them. They enabled me believe in myself which helped me later to accomplish much in my life. Walking and talking are far from a problem for me today.

FCL: What are your favorite books and what are you currently reading?
Over the years my interest in reading has varied, but from a fictional perspective I have always had a fondness for those authors that can keep me guessing as to where the story line is going and how it will be brought to a final conclusion. In that vein I am currently reading a fictional work that captures the plight of a young person that has gone missing. At the same time in a non- fictional perspective I cannot resist the books that deal with humanity of people and what we as citizens of the world can do to make improvements to their plight. Saying that I am also reading “The Poor Always Pay Back”, The Grameen II Story which shows how small loans to the poorest people in the world can help reduce poverty, bring a sense of confidence to people and change to their plight in the world.

FCL: What is your vision for business and community leadership in Cincinnati?
I would hope the business and community leaders of Cincinnati can come together as a vital force and transform our metropolitan area into a recognized international community. We have numerous ethic groups and international representatives living in our community that if brought together in a planned way could put Cincinnati on the map and create a culture of true diversity.

FCL: Where do you see yourself five years from today?
My hope and vision in five years is that I am actively involved in a humanitarian organization either locally or overseas learning and doing what I can to assist the vulnerable people in the world. I realize that may sound quite outlandish, but having worked for the American Red Cross for 34 years I cannot imagine doing something much different than what I am doing now. As a teenager someone suggested that if I wanted to see the world I should join the military. Instead I joined the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, saw the world and never needed to carry a gun. I have gone into places around the world where people were leaving because of war or disaster and made life long friends with people of all walks of life, varied races, ethnic and political backgrounds. With all that in mind I have had the opportunity to truly grow as a person and would like to view myself as a citizen of the world if there is such a term.

Closing remarks (from Herman): This is magnificent Vince! Your work is making a tremendous difference and your leadership is touching so many families and lives! Your answers to the interview questions brought to mind a leadership talk I had given to a group of youth a few months ago. I'd like to reproduce a very shortened version of it here because ittouches on different aspects of your interview. Leadership is in great demand… and not just leadership but great leadership. People are looking for examples that can be followed and consistency in leaders that can be trusted. People are looking for substance in leadership. In order to become the great leaders we could be, I think there are three essential requirements that we must embody:
1. Strive to Be Excellent: Striving toward excellence is the number one pursuit of great leaders. The leader is a leader becomes he or she does things better than most people. Nothing qualifies better more than excellence. Committing yourself to becoming everything you are capable of becoming and you will be a great leader.
2. Look for Ways to Help: Leaders motivate themselves and others by continually looking for ways to help others to improve their lives and achieve their goals. Leaders have a passion for seeing others succeed. They therefore empower those aroudn them with ideas, tools, strategies and key things required to be successful in life. They think beyond themselves to others and how they can help them become successful in life.
3. Model Character and Credibility: The greatest need in leadership today is character and credility. You become a great leader by becoming the kind of person others want to get behind and support in every way. People want to follow believable leaders. They want to see authenticity and crebility in their leaders. They want leaders who will take the high ground and be examples worth emulating. A solid character will make you a great leader.

Thanks Vince! I wish you the very best as you continue to touch the lives of so many people.