Exclusive Video: Q-and-A With Derreck Kayongo

December 1, 2016

What are some ways that communications professionals can find inspiration for their work?

Part of what causes inspiration is events. I wouldn’t be inspired if I didn’t have that event of being a child of a father who made soap, and then saw the need for soap as a refugee and then saw hotels through soap. I think that inspiration begins at that place where you find a need. If we didn’t have any needs, then nobody would be inspired to do anything.

But once you find that need, I think it’s important to then find the energy, and purpose and passion for that need. There are so many needs out there, but we attach ourselves to that one particular thing that we feel is connected to our value systems, to our skill sets, to our intuition. That intersection, I think, then creates that velocity that you need — that kinetic energy needs to move forward.

How do you harness the energy and clear any hurdles on a project?

You overcome that hurdle of needing to do something by being gumption-driven and fearless; the desire to ignore failure as the reason why you shouldn’t do something. People fail all the time. But failure is an instrument that helps you through to the end, where you get to success. Because failure asks you the question: Are you good at this and can you actually do better? We give back to those particular skill sets through failing and experimenting and trying again.

People should always see that hurdle as a need to develop your skill set and get better so that you can get over the hurdle. That’s what people who jump hurdles in relays do; they knock them down in the beginning but as they master the art they get better. That’s what I view as a way to get rid of the hurdle, by understanding the power of failure to form the future of your success.

You talked about starting the Global Soap Project in your basement. Did you have any moments where you thought you were going to give up on this idea?

You know, every day I wanted to give up. [Laughs] Because part of eating that steady diet of hard equations — how do you recycle soap? How do you convince people to buy into the idea of using that recycled soap? How do you develop a supply chain to have hotels from all over the country give you soap? The cleverness did not just begin at the idea level; it had to follow through the whole process.

So yeah, I wanted to give up every day, but when you give up, where do you live — the victims of poverty and the victims of war, my refugee friends, who are relying on me — who has been given the chance to come to the United States to have this whole wealth around me? They’re relying on me to translate that into something that formidably fights back some of the vestiges of poverty or war that they’re faced with in my small way.

So I did not have an option to give up. I think when you’re privileged and you’re given a second chance, especially in this country, the idea of giving up is so remote and should be very hard to come by.

What does leadership look like to you?

One of the characteristics of a leader, in my view, is that they’re never right. They’re never right because if they’re right for somebody else, they’ll be wrong for somebody else; if they’re wrong for the other person, they’re right for the other person. They’re always in the middle. And what they do is they find a conviction of something, and that’s what they follow.

Leaders construct avenues through which we all sort of travel through. If you find somebody who doesn’t have that ability to forge a way forward, then they’re not a leader.

Secondly, a leader is somebody who explains the question that has been asked of them in ways that are meaningful. Leaders don’t seek to be right for everybody; what leaders do is they seek to explain the tough questions in ways that are meaningful so that all of us, whether we believe in it or not, can buy into that particular avenue that they’ve forged.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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