Community, Leadership Development

“…Exit a Leader”

LAS in the D was an experience that I wish everyone had the opportunity to do. LAS in the D is considered a service trip. We are supposed to go and do things that service those in Detroit. I really and truly did not feel like this was a service trip. I felt like Detroit was doing things for us. Detroit was changing me more than I was changing it.

img_1557In Detroit our first stop was at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. At Jalen Rose we were split into groups and asked to help facilitate ice breakers with the high school students. Ultimately I thought that this was going to be cheesy and awkward but it actually turned out to be some of our students’ favorite parts. We were able to learn more about the students and make connections before we even began doing any real activities. After we spent some time getting to know our students we helped facilitate and participate in some activities working on teamwork and communication. These activities were actually a challenge for me because I found myself over participating in some of the activities. I had to keep reminding myself to let the students have their turn to lead. We then did some debriefing and after just a short time with the students we said our goodbyes and hit the bus.

We then were headed off to Quicken Loans in Detroit. The difference between Jalen Rose and Quicken Loans was outrageous to me. Quicken Loans was a very big expensive building with high security and such nice facilities where just 10 minutes before at Jalen Rose there weren’t very many nice buildings and things. At Quicken Loans we had the opportunity to hear a presentation from the Vice President¬† of Quicken Loans. He told us of the history and what Quicken Loans stands for and all of the different things that Quicken Loans is doing for Detroit. This was an absolutely amazing and eye opening experience. For the rest of the night we had the opportunity to hangout at the Detroit Institute of the Arts and spend the night and learn about the history of the Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center.

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In the morning, we woke up and packed out bags for Cass. Cass is a community organization which helps the homeless get back on their feet. They have kitchens to feed the homeless; donation centers of food, clothes, and housing items, for the homeless; and have a shop where they make rugs out of tires that have been dumped on the street that they sell to make money for the organization. The really cool thing about Cass is that they hire mostly the homeless people that they serve. They give the homeless¬† that second chance because most other companies won’t. Cass also has apartments that they rent out to their employees once they get enough money from working. Ultimately Cass takes people from the lowest of lows and slowly helps them to rebuild their own lives. Nothing is just handed to them but they are given the chance to earn the job and earn the apartment. Cass has many employees that are able to build a resume from working at Cass to help them get out into the workforce and get better paying jobs. This really touched me because nobody ever talks about all of these organizations that are doing amazing things and doing so much to rebuild Detroit and help the people become functioning members of the community. Bringing light to these organizations is so important in making Detroit the city that it deserves to be. LAS volunteered at Cass with these workers who were able to tell us their own stories of what Cass has done for them and I think that if everyone had that opportunity, Detroit would be so different in the eyes of those who have no idea what it really is.

In Detroit we had the opportunity to facilitate leadership activities at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, tour and learn about Quicken Loans, roam through the Detroit Institute of the Arts, stay at the Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center, and then spend our morning volunteering for Cass. With so many different opportunities to learn and grow, I find myself stuck on one moment of our trip.

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Ya know those moments in chick-flicks where the girl has the realization that she loves the boy and the world starts spinning and music starts playing? Yeah I had one of those moments except mine was while I was sitting on a dusty Detroit high school classroom floor and I just realized what I had known all along. In class the week before our trip we had to discuss why we did what we did. What we were passionate about. Ultimately what gets us out of bed in the morning. We then turned this into a why statement. Everyone had a different why statement because they were personal to your passions. My why statement is “Inspire others to find the beauty in everything and seek the things that make them the happiest”. The moment that I had my ‘moment’ was when I realized that I was living and preaching this all along and didn’t even realize it.

img_1598While debriefing about the activities that we had done at Jalen Rose with the students we all got to put in our advice and thoughts. I raised my hand and pointed out the fact that the thing that continuously kept the group going was their positivity. I told them that they just kept trying and having fun with it instead of getting frustrated and angry. I reminded that them we could relate this back to situations in real life and try to find the good in bad situations and have fun with the things that could frustrate us. After I was finished talking I had my moment. I realized that I was teaching students about the things that are most important to me. As someone who is so passionate about education and learning and wants to be a teacher to realize that I am sitting there teaching students about being positive and happy and all of the other things that I’m passionate about and that are important to me was so crazy. I realized that in that exact moment I was doing the things that are the most important to me.

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After the fact I realized that maybe I’d been actually instilling these thoughts and ideas in the people around me all along and didn’t even realize it. Maybe I had been living my passions this whole time before I really knew that those were the things that wake me up in the morning. Being in Detroit gave us so many opportunities to give, and while I think that I did do my part in giving back to Detroit, I think that I took so much more.

I hope to now be more aware of leaving my mark and the things that are important to me anywhere I go. Leaving a lasting mark and impact with the things that matter the most to me on the things that matter most to me was such an inspiring act and I hope to continue doing this from now on wherever I go.

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Leadership Development, Leadership Education, Leadership Training

The Spark in My Eyes

As Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. We all make the choices we make because to us, that is the best choice that we can make; that is the best you that you can be in that moment. The challenge we are all faced with daily is ‘is this it? Is this the best we can ever be’.

Let’s just be completely honest here; anyone who regularly attends leadership conferences rarely ever goes into it thinking that they will come out of it a new person with all of these new ideas and philosophies. Every conference pretty much hits the basic points in different ways; the importance of team work, identifying different leadership styles, communication, et cetera, et cetera. Here’s the reality of a leadership: you probably will not learn some great, brand new life changing idea by going to a conference, meeting, training or really anything. Here’s another reality: that does not mean that you are the best that you can be and you know all there is to know; you are never done growing.

I went into Spark Leadership with a pretty good idea of what to expect. First there would be an opening speaker that would motivate you to look deeper into the meaniimg_0518ng of the activities and things that you were about to do (BTW you did great as always, Dan Gaken). You would then get into smaller groups based on the information on your name tag (you know what I’m talking about, the one that always makes you feel a little bit more sophisticated than what you actually are) that you would spend the rest of the day with learning and growing in leadership. You would then do activities that are usually fun, scary, exciting, and frustrating all at the same time and debrief afterward about what you learned and took away from the activity. After having fun with your new friends you would have another speaker or two to remind you of the ways that these new skills can be exemplified in your daily life. At the end you would get your goodies (tshirts are my favorite), fill out some last minute surveys or paperwork for the conference, and say your goodbyes to the people you spent the day with. For anyone that attended Spark Leadership or really any kind of conference or training can probably back me up in saying that this is pretty average. Anyone who has ever been can also say that you will always come out better than what you started regardless of the numerous times you’ve already done any of the activities or heard any of the speakers.

I believe that you learn more from the people whom you go through the activities with than anything. People are different and this shines within leadership. People have different strengths and weaknesses. You are not the best at everything. For a competitive overachiever, this is something that I still struggle to accept and remind myself of everyday. Trainings like Spark Leadership remind me that THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. How lucky am I to be able to learn something from every single person I meet, in an environment where everyone is a stranger? There are endless opportunities to learn from others’ strengths and weaknesses at Spark Leadership and this is my absolute favorite part of anything ‘leadership’.

If you take anything from this blog, please take this: you will never grow to your full potential if you cannot be honest with yourself. Self reflection is a key part in learning and this is one of the biggest things that I took away from Spark Leadership. Look at yourself in the beginning and see your strengths; appreciate them and utilize them. Then, look at your weaknesses and embrace them. Embrace them in everything you can. A leadership training is meant to push those weaknesses and make you better. If you cannot look at yourself and say “okay, this is what I need to be better at”, how will you know when to push yourself. Before Spark Leadership, I recognized that trust and stepping out of my comfort zone is my biggest weakness. I know the areas in which I am good at and I like to stick to them. I am good at giving instruction, I am good at seeing all sides of a situation, I am good at taking charge. But what happens when I choose to ignore those things? What happens when I choose to embrace my weaknesses? Well, my weaknesses become stronger. At Spark Leadership we did an activity where we all had a partner. One of us was blindfolded and one was not. We were told that we were to go through this obstacle course but we were not told that it was filled with mouse traps (yes, they were real and set), randomly placed desks, creepy music, and the noise of random traps going off with our partner. The partner that was not blindfolded had to lead the other through the course without touching them but if they touched any of the obstacles they had to start over. Normally I would have jumped to the role of leading the partner through the course. I had no idea what the course looked like, I did not know my partner, and I had faith that I would be able to lead her easily through the course. Instead of doing this, I asked to be the one blindfolded. This scared me. Bad. I did not know what to expect of the course, who this girl was, or like the fact that I would not be able to see. I chose to do this because before the training I recognized that this was where my weaknesses lay. This is where I wanted to improve my abilities. Being able to recognize that I am not very good at these things and being able to push myself to improve on them is how you get the most out of anything. At Spark Leadership I stepped out of my comfort zone and improved myself because I was able to recognize my own weaknesses.

So yes, every choice that we make is the best choice that we can make with the knowledge and experiences that we have been given. Everything that we do is out of the best parts of our hearts and this I truly believe. Even the most poor decisions are innocent; they are the decisions we make because that is what we have learned to be the best. The decisions that we make now that seem genius may seem silly in five years but right now that is the best we know. The difference between the best decisions and the worst decisions are simply the experiences and knowledge that we have gained. Spark Leadership is one of the experiences that I have taken advantage of to become the best me that I can be.