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The Best Leadership Lessons Come from Unexpected Places


Have you ever seen that movie Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender? Ok, I’ve never seen it either but, I’m a bit of a weirdo for movies and I’ve watched several interviews about the movie…without actually seeing the movie itself.

Word on the street is that the movie captures the behind the scenes of three crucial Apple INC launches, which I think is a cool concept and so I’m stealing it.

During my college career, hands down the best preparation I got for Corporate America was serving on the Executive Board of the National Society of Black Engineers at Clarkson University (Go Knights!). Why?


It was my first exposure to leading an organization, ‘managing’ ‘employees’, and leveraging influence to get work done. Not only was my team my colleagues, but I also had nothing to incentivize them to do their work outside or a common goal and shared mission.


Today, I want to share the best lessons that I gleaned during this period because they have stayed with me throughout my career.

If It Isn’t Documented, It Didn’t Happen - Sophomore Year (Advisor's House)

I’ve always prided myself on being process-oriented and good at execution. That was more or less the platform that I ran on to be the Program’s Chair during my sophomore year. That’s what makes this next part so permanently stamped in my mind.


The executive board was invited to our advisor’s home for some food, games, and ‘catching up.’ After the festivities, the conversation strayed into our performance as leaders thus far. I felt confident. However, when it was my turn, I was told that it wasn’t clear what programs I had in place.

I started talking about everything I had worked on and put in place but was promptly reminded that there was no record of that anywhere. No written program, no actives documented. Essentially, I learned one of my most important lessons - “if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”

If You Have Synergy, You’ll More Grow Quickly - Junior Year (Paul’s Presidency)

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “teamwork makes the dream work.” That’s exactly the situation I was in for my Junior year, where I was elected as the vice president, with one of my best friends, Paul, being elected as president.


Paul and I had the luxury of a very high trust relationship. Also, while a pride myself as a process-driven executor, Paul was more of an inspirational leader. He had big dreams for our small chapter, and with a high degree of empathy, won over our membership to his ambitions.

The results were one of the most challenging and fulfilling years that I spent in any organization. Often Paul would highlight directions he wanted to go in and objectives to fulfill and it was my job to see it through.

These initiatives resulted in internships, scholarships, conference attendance, job placements, and awards for the members of our small chapter. This year is firmly established in my mind as the year we re-defined our chapter as a force to be reckoned with because of the amazing teamwork of all my colleagues.

If You Don’t Build Sustainably, You Will Fail - Senior Year (Sophomore Executive Board)

Where do you go after you’re won a championship? That’s the question I found myself asking as the newly elected president of our chapter during my senior year. The response I decided on was to go back to work.


This year, many of my colleagues decided to make way for the next generation of executive board members, but I felt like I needed to serve to help provide a transition and ensure that the new team would be sustainable long after we were gone.

This is where I learned a valuable lesson, it takes patience and deliberate effort to mentor and develop new talent. I often found myself in situations where it would just be easier to get things done on my own. However, that would have stolen meaningful experiences, that I already had, from a group of bright and ambitious professionals.


While the year had its challenges, I was lucky enough to watch shy, unsure board members step up to the plate and deliver amazing results. The chapter continued to do well in the broader organization and was even Nationally awarded for its amazing accomplishments.


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I could not have been more fortunate to learn these lessons at such an early point in my professional career. Being allowed to collaborate with my peers and provide leadership gave me lessons that I still deploy in my professional career today.


I can not overstate the impact of serving on a team and providing leadership purely through influence. It is absolutely a critical experience worth pursuing regardless of where you may be in your career.

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