After the rush and excitement of returning home from the National Leadership Conference, I’ve gotten asked questions like, “How was it?” or “Did you learn a lot?” and my answers are somewhere along the lines of “It was awesome!” and “I learned SO MUCH”. Both of which are true statements.
Today I am going to drive a little deeper and give you, my Delta Psi family, some background on the why and what exactly I learned.
On the first day of NLC, I arrived about 4 hours early. I am notoriously late for most things, but this I would not dare be late for. After checking in and receiving all the materials we would be using throughout the weekend, all 650 Zetas in attendance piled into a massive room to begin the 2017 National Leadership Conference. And who better to kick off a Zeta filled weekend than Carolyn Carpenter—our ZLAMMIN National President (stay tuned for pics because she is my role model).
Mrs. Carpenter introduced herself (like she needed an introduction) and asked that throughout the weekend, we take the time away from technology and responsibilities, and to “Listen and Lead”—listen to our sisters across the country and learn how to lead our chapter to becoming the absolute best it can be. The phrase itself is simple but had a profound meaning that we learned over the course of the weekend.
The first day was full of icebreakers, in both a large setting and within our small groups. A large part of my learning experience was from the conversations within my small group, so the majority of my time at NLC will be conveyed through my relationship with the magnificent Group 5.
The brilliant organizers behind NLC strategically placed chapters with similar sizes and problems into a group of 10-12 girls, based upon their position. Group 5 consisted of presidents from colleges like University of North Carolina, Texas Christian University, and Florida Gulf Coast, just to name a few. Even with all of our different experiences, we all had one thing in common—our desire to serve each other and serve our chapter in whatever capacity that entailed.
My favorite part about NLC was the fact that they don’t let you stay in your comfort zone. I’m a notorious creature of habit and my comfort zone is my happy place. Yet in our small group sessions, we were asked difficult questions and often felt uncomfortable sharing our individual and chapter struggles. But each president’s struggles was something that every leader can relate to—the loneliness “at the top”; the feeling that you aren’t really making a difference in someone’s life; the time you made a decision that negatively impacted someone’s life; the struggle of balancing your personal, academic, and Zeta life, and more.
So, my life lesson from day 1: vulnerability made my life easier throughout the course of that weekend. And I’m hoping that it has the same impact throughout my everyday life and within our chapter. While it’s not always easy to share the struggles that each of us face, vulnerability is the foundation of true, lasting friendships. Even Shirley Strout knew this when she called all Zeta Tau Alphas “to be true to ourselves and to those within and without our circle”. In order to make our chapter the best it can be, it begins with the individuals and showing others our truest self.
Day 2 was the first full day of NLC. It began with all of us gathering into the big room that we crammed into the first day to listen to the wonderful Tina Vansteenbergen share her story of leadership and the importance of empathy.
Tina’s story is hers to share, and I would not do it any justice to try and butcher in here today. However, she did share a story that I think many people can relate to. While serving in a leadership position at her college, Tina had to work with a fellow student who could not do their job in a timely manner or attend meetings on time. She learned later that his home life was being flipped upside down with a personal tragedy that he had told no one about.
She shared the story to show all the leaders of Zeta Tau Alpha the importance of empathy. People matter more than projects and due dates. Asking questions about the individuals who seem—or even DON’T seem—to be struggling can make a difference in their life. There have been more situations that I would like to admit where I regret not being more empathetic. One of the most important lessons NLC taught me was to understand the importance of empathy for people and their situations.
The second day of NLC was about listening. I used to think I was a good listener until I was actually told what “being a good listener” is. Listening is giving your FULL attention to whomever you are talking to, and letting them SPEAK. I am the QUEEN of finishing people’s thoughts and completing their sentences, which defeats the whole purpose of listening. I think every person has something that they struggle with when listening to someone, whether it is doodling, texting, looking at the people around you, thinking ahead to what you will say/do next, and so on. The most valuable act you can do for someone is just to listen. Get away from all the distractions and focus on the person in front of you. BE IN THE NOW!!
The last full day of NLC started with breakfast in the dining room and a discussion with our guest Speaker Ross Szabo. Ross is one of the co-authors for ZTA’s mental health course called “Behind Happy Faces” and is the Wellness Director at UCLA. He spent the better part of the hour by sharing his mental health story with us, while also sharing the importance of leaders to understand mental health not just for others, but also for ourselves.
Ross began by defining mental health as how you balance the different aspects of your life—your relationships, your coping skills, and how you take care of your mind. The looming pressures and responsibilities leaders of ANY organization face can be overwhelming and disheartening. The thing that struck me the hardest was when he quoted Lisa Hayes, who said “Be careful how you are talking about yourself, because you are listening”. I think each of us can relate to the meaning behind that statement. I know each of us can struggle with that concept, and for me personally, there are definitely times when I beat myself down for making the wrong decision or not living up to image of the leader that I believe that my chapter expects me to be.
Going back to the big life truth from Day 1: we HAVE to be vulnerable with each other. We all have something going on in our life, and keeping it to ourselves is helping NO ONE, not even yourself. Taking care of your mind is the first step in taking care of yourself.
On a less serious note, I have SO many great ideas to share with EC and the chapter upon returning for the fall semester. Haley and I have learned so many great ways to build on our sisterhood and to practice listening and leading within our chapter. I am excited for the fall and I cannot wait to share with each of you the amazing things I learned at NLC!!
-Madison Matthews, Samford ZTA President
BIG OLE HAPPY SHOUTOUT to our chapter for winning Crown Chapter!! We’re so proud of our girls’ hard work & we’re excited for another awesome year of sisterhood, service, & fun!