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Leadership: Learning to lead like no one is watching

Of the many scholarships I applied for my senior year of high school, the Golden LEAF Scholars offered perhaps the most opportunity. The Golden LEAF Foundation offers scholarships exclusively to rural, tobacco-dependent, economically distressed counties in North Carolina in hopes of aiding in the future growth and development of these areas.


Networking and relationship building is among the many elements of the Golden LEAF Scholars program. One aspect of that program is weekend leadership conferences. Our first was held over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

Located in Greensboro at the Koury Convention Center, the conference was a great learning experience from start to finish. A van transport picked me up from my university, Appalachian State University, on Friday night.

Saturday morning started off with a bang! We had breakfast with Dan Gerlach, the president of the Golden LEAF Foundation. He welcomed us before we went to individual breakout sessions with our group, coach, five other groups, and representatives from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). From 9am to 5pm, with lunch in between, we participated in fun activities to help us learn what it takes to be a leader.

Our first activity was a question game in lieu of a traditional icebreaker. We each had a card with a thought-provoking question on it; some examples are “Describe your perfect day off?” and “What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?” We partnered up and after asking each other the questions on our cards, we switched cards and repeated it with a new partner. The coaches participated as well, erasing the power dynamic and setting the stage for open, honest conversation.


When we got back to our classroom we began exploring our Stretchbook provided by the CCL. We went over the “Rules of the Game” and each group drew a visual representation of their “rule.” My group had a rule that said to “play full out with a beginner’s mind.” We had fun drawing someone dancing alone in the middle of a room of negative, close-minded people and entitled it “Dance Like No One’s Watching!”

This conversation segued into learning about mental models that could hold us back. Mental models can hinder leadership if one allows themselves to be controlled by the ingrained assumptions we are all guilty of. We saw our own mental models work against us while playing a game together with an end objective of aligning a puzzle of pictures in sequential order. We had 25 minutes and about 25 pictures to place. Though it sounds easy in theory, we worked against ourselves for the first five-seven minutes because we were all under the assumption it was one big picture. We finally realized there were hidden numbers in the pictures and got them lined up in almost the correct order before time was called. Once we opened our minds to the new possibility it was easier to find a new end goal and work toward it together.


After a short break we jumped right back in with a Visual Explorer tool. We chose one picture, of many, and then explained how it represented leadership to us and shared with our group. I found a picture of a man rock climbing and looking down. I saw leadership because an important part of being an effective leader is being appreciative of the trials conquered to get to the top and using one’s own success as inspiration to strive for the next goal.


Next, we moved on to the fundamental tasks of leadership and discussing our personal values. We learned that in order to succeed as a leader one needs three critical things: direction, alignment, and commitment. With all three of these in mind the desired outcome should be agreed upon, the work should be distributed evenly and organized according to optimal ability, and every person must maintain the same level of passion and responsibility for success. Additionally, a leader that knows their personal values and strengths will be able to govern with a sense of confidence and composure to give the members of their team assurance in trusting them.

We learned that in order to succeed as a leader one needs three critical things: direction, alignment, and commitment.

Our last activity of the day was taking the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and sharing our results to compare the similarities and differences in personalities across the board. It was completely eye opening to see how our personalities come into play during every decision we make and also made me aware of the places I need to bend in order to be a leader that could relate to everyone on my team.

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The last day at the conference was spent going over the logistics of the internships all Golden LEAF leaders will be completing this summer. Personally, having the opportunity to have an internship this early in my college career will be extremely beneficial when I begin applying for nursing schools. In the medical field there is no greater learning experience than witnessing patient care first hand.

I left the conference thinking this Foundation loves North Carolina as much as I do.

Jordan Edmisten

Jordan Edmisten is a student at Appalachian State University. She plans to major in nursing and work in a children’s hospital in the future.