Sel's Leadership Experience

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I enlisted in the army towards the end of WWII and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. There was a military band there, and transferred into the band. There were no piano players, but I located one from another outfit, an all-black one. The army was segregated in those days. One of the first jobs I got for the band was [to play at] a dance to be held at the Club. At the entrance, since we weren't officers, we were asked for identification and reason for gaining entry told him we were the band members there to play for the dance. He told us all to go in, except for the black guy. They [black people] weren't allowed. I tried a little cajoling, but it didn't work. At that point made the decision that it was all or none of us and told him that there wouldn't be any music for the dance tonight. He notified someone inside the club, and an officer emerged. I reiterated my decision and waited. Finally he said 0K, we could all go in and provide the music. My guess is that our band was the first integrated unit in the military. and probably the first time a black man was allowed into the Officers' Club.


Alexandros's Leadership Experience

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Senior year of high school, I had just lost the election for school president. I had high hopes and big dreams for what I wanted to do to make the school better, and I was not going to let that election prevent me from doing what I knew was good. For years, our pep rallies had been cancelled, but I wanted to enact positive change in the school, and my biggest idea was to bring the event back. I was not officially part of student government, but I still went to their meetings, and I spoke with administration almost every day. I came up with ideas and participated, and made the plans. I reached out to the community and garnered their support through a petition to bring the pep rally back. And when the principal finally declared that the pep rally would be scheduled, student council received the credit. While I would have liked to been appreciated then and there for all of the effort I put in, I didn’t mind because in the end, I had succeeded. I was still a leader because though I was behind the scenes, I still created change for the better. A true leader is a person who tries to bring people up, push the line in the right direction. And he doesn’t necessarily have to be seen, or at the front of the line, but the one doing the push is really who everyone follows.


Shilpa's Leadership Experience

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My earliest leadership memory is tutoring Ashley. Ashley was a first-grader in my neighborhood who needed a personal tutor to help her complete her work for school. She was a bright girl, with so much zeal and re in her, and my job was to channel that energy into her homework and projects so she could move to the second grade. My 16-year-old self thought this would be a cake-walk. I love to teach! I love school! Kids love me! No brainer-right? I had never been more wrong.

For the first few months, I approached tutoring Ashley after school like, well, a tutor. Every day after school, I went over to her home; I sat with her at her kitchen table and asked her what she learned in school that day. Every day, I got an annoyed glare and a mumbled, “nothing.” I would beg her, plead with her to pay attention, celebrate with high-fives when she actually applied herself in hopes that she would find this fun. And every day it was a battle. Her attention span was extremely short, and it seemed she found pleasure in intentionally getting the answers incorrect and watching me get frustrated. Worst of all, Ashley certainly wasn’t retaining the information. . . she had no stake in the game.

After three months of tutoring, Ashley had her mid-year report card, and she was failing. I knew the issue wasn’t intelligence. Academics were boring to Ashley. She wanted to play with her friends after school, not sit down at her kitchen table for hours and do math and reading exercises. I realized I needed to do two things: get her to know me as Shilpa, and make studying fun. Ashley loved sports—especially basketball. So we moved from the kitchen table to the basement, where she had her hoop set up. Then, I made up rules for my newly formed tutoring method. For every page read correctly, Ashley got to take a free-throw shot. For every two pages read correctly without stopping, Ashley got to play me with some semblance of a full-court press and a chance to shoot a three-pointer.

Finally, in between reading pages and taking free throws, we got to know each other as people. She started to let me in on who her friends were at school, and I told her about my friends as well. We talked about what she wanted to be when she grew up (a WNBA player of course) and I tried to get her to see how succeeding in school would help her with that goal. I learned more and more about Ashley, her motivations, her fears—and most of all—what an incredibly intelligent and sharp little girl she was. She amazed me with her ability to negotiate for an extra free-throw shot if she combined her reading exercises with math ones, and her inherent sense of always knowing what she wanted- never wavering for a moment. I knew then there wasn’t anything that she couldn’t do—I just needed her to see that. Ashley ended the year with a B-average report card. I’d like to think that Ashley learned a lot from me that year, but I actually learned the most from her. I also learned a lot about leadership.

That year made me realize that you can have the clearest of visions, the best of intentions, and even have authority, but that doesn’t mean people are going to listen to you. Leadership is as much about building relationships with others and recognizing their qualities and strengths as much as it is about being agile in the face of continuous challenges to eventually show people how to fly on their own.


Laura's Leadership Experience

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In the 1960s, the Chicago Tribune newspaper ran a series of phonics lessons for children in the Sunday comics section, where the lessons used story, color imagery, humor, and even acting suggestions for adults who wished to make the ideas come to life for pre-kindergarteners. I remember with great affection my mother sitting on the 'good' living room sofa while I sat at her feet to go through each letter's lesson. It was on the letter L lesson that I suggested my younger sister join our sessions, even though she was two years younger than I was. I argued that her name began with an L just as mine did and that she was so smart she would surely enjoy the gift of independence in early reading attempts.

We doubled the fun of our 'one room, one mom-teacher and two-student schoolhouse' that day and began a shared family love of reading. Leadership to me still is being curious about others' viewpoints and contributions and letting them know you're confident they'll be an important part of the conversation. Fast forward. Four decades later, I love using the Socratic method of thoughtful dialogue with a team. So when convening a group of individuals, authoring a charter of roles has long been my primary task. Recently I was asked to chair a project team commissioned by the director to enhance our safety training. Other project teams were also launched (at the same meeting) that day to 'fix' safety. All in there were about 30 senior leaders within six teams ready to assemble, write reports, and announce recommendations in about six weeks' time.

From the first meeting, I asked my team if they were OK with asking the other five teams to work on various topics together, as there was significant overlap in both inputs and deliverables. I couldn't imagine all of us completing our work whilst strewn all about the campus not talking to each other. If we were truly interested in using data and research to change behaviors and improve outcomes based on common understanding, then we would need to have large-group, small-group, and one-on-one conversations. To my way of thinking, we would have to have a combined point of view final presentation to the board in order to actually make a difference in the safety story.


Lena's Leadership Experience

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One summer while I was on a break from high school, my family went on a vacation to Turkey. One evening my mom and I went on a sightseeing boat trip along with a few other tourists. A while later the engine of this rustic boat broke down. The only employee on board, the boat's captain, was at a loss of what to do, and back then cell phones didn't exist. As the captain tried to tinker aorund with teh boat's engine, I became convinced that we needed to act fast as it was getting dark, and we were drifting into the open ocean. As the other passengers became more anxious, I took charge and spoke to the captain on behalf of the group. I saw a large yacht at a distance and convinced the captain to swim up and seek help from that yacht. My main objective was to ensure that everyone was safe and then to worry about fixing the boat. As a result, we were brought on board the yacht, and then safely transported back to shore.


Ivan's Leadership Experience

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One of my early leadership experiences happened when I came to study in the United States at the age of 17 from a small regional city in Russia. I had to start making my own choices, choosing my own behavior, and making my own living. I started to exercise regularly, lost weight, studied hard to get good marks, worked on a part-time job, and joined the Corps of Cadets. I think leadership starts when you choose to take ownership and responsibility of your own actions. You can’t lead other people if you don’t know how to lead yourself. When I came to the US at 17, it was the first time that I truly had to take the lead of myself.


Connie's Leadership Experience

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My husband and I had taken our two young (early grade school) children to a combination hotel/indoor water park for a short winter weekend getaway. One night, early in the morning (maybe 2:00 am or so), we were woken up by the sound of the hotel fire alarm going off. Trying not to panic, we grabbed coats and kids (left all the luggage—we were in our pajamas) and carried them down the stairs (no using elevators in a fire) to the ground floor where we headed for the nearest door out to the parking lot.

There was a large crowd of people all standing bunched up in the hall- way in front of the doorway, all wearing their pajamas and winter coats. With the alarm still blaring, I couldn’t imagine why on earth people weren’t getting out of the building, so with my daughter in my arms, I pushed my way up to the door vestibule area to find a young hotel employee with his arms outstretched and blocking the exit, loudly telling everyone to stay calm and that it was just a false alarm and that there was no reason to leave the building. My husband had come up behind me with our son. I just remember telling this young man that these were my children and it was my choice to leave and that we were not taking any chances.

I pushed past him and we went out to our car. It was like a cork coming out of a bottle—as we were going to our car, I looked behind us and people were streaming out of the door behind me. I guess they just needed someone to take that step of thinking for themselves. It turned out in the end that it was indeed a false alarm, but we sat in the car with two overtired and upset kids in the cold and light snow with the engine running while firefighters checked the entire building. Eventually, the emergency response vehicles began leaving, and the hotel staff went car-to-car telling people it was OK to return.

Afterward, I remember thinking to myself “holy cow, since when did you get so feisty?” for the way I pushed past that young employee’s outstretched arms, but it felt right and good to do so. The memory of that event has really stuck with me. Motherhood makes you pretty tough and bold when it comes to protecting your kids. I didn’t intend to “lead” anyone that night, but I did learn that exhibiting determination and conviction can inspire other people to make independent choices for themselves, even in the face of someone telling you no.


Jake's Leadership Experience

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Winter 1990. About 10 boys standing behind the pavilion eager to start the cross-country season, but there is no teacher. The sport didn’t get much attention in our school. After a few jokes and some horseplay, I realized the other would-be athletes were looking at me. Why me? I’m not oldest, I’m definitely not an academic senior. But, I love running. It puts a smile on my face. I love motivating people to challenge and improve themselves. Couple of deep breaths; in through the nose, out the mouth, as prescribed in the Runner’s World magazine. Come on guys! I shouted. Let’s go out to the Dragon’s Back (as the notorious hill was known) and do some hill repeats. Don’t worry, we go out at an easy pace and we will stick in a group. Follow me!