I’m late posting this. I should’ve posted this moons ago, but I didn’t, so here we are today, 14 days later. Let’s just smile and accept it, and understand that this post is about to be long.
It was an honor and privilege to speak at Morehouse College on July 13, 2018 during the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) regional leadership retreat that was hosted by the Morehouse chapter.
As a volunteer advisory council member for the Morehouse NSLS chapter, I was asked about my interest and availability to allow the 100+ student leaders from various schools from around the country a moment to hear my thoughts and opinions about topics surrounding and embedded in leadership.
Wow, they want to actually peer inside of my brain? Are they sure about that? For an entire hour they want to let me loose upon a group of young and seasoned adults who don’t know a thing about me? Are they sure?
Yep, they were sure.
They also wanted to know if I would be interested in being a member of a panel discussion that delved into the topic and process of community engagement and the responsibilities and issues that leaders face when attempting to do good works.
The answer came easily for the panel discussion, “sure”, it’s a 30-minute panel, how much harm could I do? *Smile*
I had to think about the hour-long session. What would my topic be? What would I say? The NSLS hosting committee told me that the skies the limit, and when it comes to the broad conversation on leadership, the sky may not even be the limit—you may extend out toward the galaxy, with the mountain of content you can cover.
So I pondered.
What could I share from my head and my heart with the students that would also allow me to learn from them, at the same time learn more about myself?
That’s how I teach by the way.
As a college professor, my goal isn’t just to share my knowledge and wisdom; I’m thirsty for knowledge and some of the best sources are your students. Where else can you get a room full of people who are assembled for numerous reasons, not tied to an organizational or group goal, and get them to open up and share their thoughts and beliefs in a safe environment?
The classroom is a unique place to share and exchange ideas, experiences, solutions to problems, and more. While my students learn from me, I learn from them.
Each student has their own dynamic story, background, and experiences with success and failure. It’s impossible for educators, researchers and “experts” to know it all—only through hearing, seeing, and recording other people’s experiences can you gather data to begin ‘connecting the dots’.
So as I pondered for awhile about my Morehouse leadership session I considered: what do today’s leaders need to know that was most likely not taught to them throughout their childhood and even as adults?
I emailed the NSLS hosting committee three session topics that I was interested in expanding into full-blown discussions:
- Fear and failure
- Responsibility as ethical leaders
- Your vision, values and how they impact your roles in life
I thought that they would simply choose one topic and then I could run with it. Not! No other speaker was speaking directly about any of these topics, so I could run with any of them. Ah man! Now I had to toss around which topic I was most passionate about.
I chose to blend all three topics into one discussion that I gave the title: “Do NOW What Will Define You Tomorrow“.
I had a super awesome time speaking with the group of men and women that assembled in the classroom that they assigned us to in the Massey Leadership building. I was shocked to see that we ran out of seats and some students chose to remain and stand along the wall to take part in this discussion.
They weren’t ready for me but wow, they were truly receptive to the experience. I’m already an animated speaker, add in a topic that I’m passionate about, and you better hold on tight because it’s going to be a ride that you may never forget. There’s no sleeping when I’m in the room. *Smile*
I try to be as transparent as possible when I speak to people about matters of the heart, and July 13th was no different. I gave them me and in return many of them shared some close, personal stories about themselves.
We discussed our hurts, angers, failures, fears, struggles, beliefs, views, and values. We even discussed the demons within that terrorize us and cause us to be agents of terror within our households, workplaces, schools, and communities.
The morning of the retreat I prepared notes to help guide me and keep me on track. I rarely do this when I speak publicly. I try to just speak from my gut and my heart. I drafted about 6 handwritten pages of notes (written large enough so I could see from a distance). Funny thing, I didn’t even use my notes during my session at Morehouse. But they were always there if I needed backup. I guess I can frame up my notes for a chapter in a future book [*mental note*].
Within one-hour our group went deep, fast, but never drowned in the details and peripheral nonsense that oftentimes blinds us and prevents genuine learning. There was no time for ‘fluff’. We had an hour so we had to jump right in. An hour is nothing when you’re passionately engaged, and before we knew it our time came to a close.
Several students remained after to speak with me. Two remained even longer and walked with me to the Bank of the America auditorium where I would join the panel of esteemed public and private sector leaders.
The panel discussion was awesome. Yep, that’s the word I choose to use to describe the energy, synergy, depth, breadth, and essence of the panelists and the candid conversation that we shared. I know that ‘awesome’ is one of my favorite words, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the panel was simply that—awesome!
I joined on stage my friends Jerica Richardson [co-founder of HackOut.Ninja] and Cassius Butts [Founder & Chairman of Capital Fortitude Business Advisors; former Regional Administrator for US Small Business Administration (SBA)] along with three of our fellow NSLS Advisory Council members: Oneka Jefferson-Cornelius [Independent Organizational Change and Development Consultant], Robert J. Yancy, PhD [Professor Emeritus, Kennesaw State University], and last but definitely not least, the man “who feeds fish for a living”—Joseph J. Handy, the President and COO of Georgia Aquarium Inc.
During our discussion we shared our failures, mistakes, past experiences, glimpses into our upbringing, and raw truths that we knew weren’t shared with us during our collegiate years in undergrad. Once again, with limited time against us, we chose not to sugar coat the 30 minutes that we had. We poured ourselves out into the auditorium and crossed our fingers that the students would be receptive.
With this powerhouse lineup, we definitely needed more than 30 minutes to truly engage on a level that the students wanted and needed. This was obvious, based on the fact that students swarmed around us as soon as the discussion ended.
We stepped out of the auditorium briefly to take the picture that you see above. Let me put names to faces and faces to names to help those of you who maybe only recognize my face in the picture (well, hopefully you can pick me out of the group *Smile*).
Pictured from Left to Right: Charles Knippen, President of NSLS; Natasha L. Foreman (that’s me); Cassius Butts; Lavonya Jones [Morehouse College NSLS chapter advisor (and the reason that Morehouse has an NSLS chapter) and Program Manager for Student Development in the Business Development Department at Morehouse]; Dr. Robert Yancy; Oneka Jefferson-Cornelius; Joseph Handy; and Jerica Richardson.
After we cheesed for this photo we returned to the auditorium to be greeted by the smiling faces of students who were patiently waiting to speak with us. Thankfully, there was a reception afterwards and that allowed us the time and space to connect with the students individually and in clusters, as they asked and answered questions, and shared how this retreat has benefitted them so far.
Some of the students in my session remembered advice given to me by my doctor, to capture life’s moments through photos so that you can reflect on the past later in the future—so the students asked to take pictures with me. A student by the name of Alexandra (who just secured a job doing research on degenerative diseases so she can one day find the cure to Alzheimer’s-Dementia; a passion we share as both of our grandmothers passed away last December after long battles) asked to take a picture with me and you can check us out below:
July 13th was an empowering day. I thought I would be driving away from the campus at 8pm, at the latest, but I was still speaking to students until 9pm, and then chatting it up until 9:45pm with my friend and colleague, Jerica Richardson (also a member of the NSLS Advisory Council for Morehouse, and a speaker at the retreat).
After 6 hours of talking and standing in those high strappy heels, you would’ve thought I would be completely drained, but I wasn’t. I was pumped, excited and hopeful. The students had a day filled with empowering and inspiring words and messages from sessions on:
- Building Communities
- Levels of Engagement
- Event Management
- Stress Management
- Getting the Most Out of College
- Leadership, A Key Component of Entrepreneurship
- Do NOW What Will Define You Tomorrow
My gut says that between Friday’s sessions and the following day’s sessions on: Public Speaking; Budgeting; Conflict Management; Team Management; Understanding Bias—along with their participation in community service projects at one of three different nearby sites (two urban farms or the on-campus food donation preparation site), the NSLS student leaders have definitely been equipped with additional tools and resources to be better leaders “who make a better world” as the NSLS motto states.
Hopefully I will be called on again in a similar capacity to exchange information, ideas, stories and experiences with NSLS student leaders. I enjoyed every second!
I would like to thank Lavonya Jones, Morehouse College, and NSLS for a great experience and for having the vision and courage to make this retreat and the college chapter possible.
Thanks to Fred Jones for your constant and unwavering support of your wife Lavonya, and for taking pictures and capturing video footage of the sessions (along with a long list of other tasks that you willingly handled before, during, and after the retreat).
A special thank you to the NSLS students who have contacted me via email and connected with me via social media and my blog. I look forward to tracking with you along these winding paths that await you!
Let’s sky dive!!!!