Last weekend I led a panel discussion for seniors in our Launching Luther Leaders program. Through L3, students examine their own leadership strengths, learn about leadership theories and practices, explore their sense of vocation, and gain leadership experience. Each spring, through a series of meetings, seniors offer reflections of their leadership journey while at Luther.
The panel discussion featured two Luther alumni, Pete Espinoza ’81 and Brittany Todd ’10, who have been successful entrepreneurs. They reflected on the significance of their Luther experiences as drivers for their experiences after graduation. Pete and Brittany spoke of how their Luther experiences taught them to be adaptable, to work successfully with people different from themselves, to be the person at work other people want to see, and to be thankful for the opportunities they have. As Pete noted, “Not everyone has the choices you have.” He continued, “There are two types of people in the world, fountains and drains – be a fountain!”
Following the hour-long conversation with Pete and Brittany, we moved on to the senior reflections. I was again struck by our students’ wisdom. One of the true benefits of the L3 program is the opportunity students have to reflect on their experience. We build into the program the expectation students will slow down enough to capture what they have learned during their time at Luther.
In a nutshell, they have learned a lot!
Anna shared how she moved from learning from other leaders to being a leader herself and the challenge she faced following in the footsteps of a strong leader. She recognized that people may not always be willing to like your leadership and it was important for her to remain confident in who she is and what she values. She further noted as a leader, you must show up and “do the things you others don’t want to do.” Reflecting on the hard work she has put into her experiences at Luther, she said, “Give hard to something, it gives back.”
Melisse found that identifying what is important to her and what she values, and considering what she wants the world around her to like are critical questions. For her, humility is a key theme, and she spoke of the balance required to be a leader and, similar to Anna, recognized that people may not always “like” you. Rather, respect is the goal. Melisse noted that your work is often done when others may not see it and the outcome of your effort is the reward. She closed by emphasizing the importance of asking questions, through which you find more than what you have given.
Catherine said that a fundamental discovery about herself led to a personal, physical, and career-changing transformation. A fitness regime led her to discover her leadership orientation. Concepts like patience, appreciation for difference, and humility are all a foundation of her leadership approach. Persistence is also a key theme for her. “You will be able to do it, it may be just not today,” she said.
Brenna found that leadership is fueled through giving back and that approaching every day with excitement and an attitude that you can go through anything—along with perseverance—is critical. Humility was also a key theme for Brenna. “Don’t lose sight of what others are going through” and to be happy for the success of others, she advised. Finally, looking out for those who do not have the privilege of choices and options, Brenna expressed the importance of connecting with the little man/woman/person – those who don’t have a voice.
Leslie began by looking back at her high school experiences and the expectations that came with being a leader. She noted she was never comfortable with the expectations. Through L3, she learned there are different types of leadership styles and being a quiet leader should not limit how she leads or what she may accomplish. She learned to become better at pushing her personal limits, to be okay with discomfort, and that engaging in diversity was both challenging and rewarding.
Samantha also reflected on her high school experience and contrasted what she has learned at Luther. In high school, leadership was about quantity—being the president, chairperson, captain, etc. —and not about depth. She continued this process of accumulation during her first two years at Luther. Accepted into the L3 program in the spring of her sophomore year, it was her leader interviews during that summer that prompted a transformational shift in perspective. When she returned as a junior, she was committed to focusing on fewer things, to going deep, and to saying “no.” How did it feel to step back? “It felt great!” she said, adding that it gave other students opportunities she might otherwise have taken.
The students also spoke of how they apply their strengths through their experiences. Through a generous gift, we have been able to introduce students to Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, a tool that helps them identify what they naturally do best and discover their Top 5 talents. While most students were introduced to “Strengths” during an experience like L3, over the past two years we have introduced first-year students to it through the Fit and Well course. Students consistently report how valuable identify their strengths has been and how it has helped them to develop and grow as individuals and how it has helped to build community by increasing not only their self-understanding but developing an appreciation for others.
By the end of the panel discussion I was quite impressed with the growth and development that these students have experienced at Luther. Their perspectives have broadened, their self-understanding has deepened, and they have sharpened the clarity of their values. They are well on the path to becoming the thoughtful and resourceful people who will lead us in the future.