My name is Ali Ann Russell and I am a junior, majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry and Spanish from Freed-Hardeman University, where I am on the tennis team. Day two of the Red Cross Collegiate Leadership Program began with bright eyes and eager minds. Especially after our new competition — “girls versus boys,who can get ready first”? The score is currently three to one with the girls winning. Surprising, right? And, it is only day two; so let the games begin.
Chris Hrouda kicked off our morning with an intriguing and engaging discussion. He traveled from Eastern Tennessee to join us, bringing his southern ease and friendliness with him. One of his salient points during his time with us was that although we are athletes, we will most likely not going to become professional. However, we are still to hold the same level of commitment to our teams that professionals do. With all the group’s attention, he tied in leadership advice by remarking that most of his current leadership skills came from taking uncomfortable job positions. After a few minutes of discussion, his closing advice was, “If you are not nervous about what you are doing, then you are either too confident or you are not stretching yourself enough.”
Our first book discussion, “Daring Destination,” was led by Randon McNeil, one of our mentors. The focus was on chapter two of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. Randon opened the chapter discussion with “People do not read plaques, people read people.” He asked if we knew the difference between ambition and aspiration; the room got silent, and that was response enough. Ambition is the desire for fame and power for an individual, while aspiration is the shared desire to achieve something great for an organization. He talked about how we should strive to bring our true self to work. An example of this is learning about different employees’ strengths and weaknesses and then placing them in a work position that compliments their skills. Following this idea, we discussed the goals we had for our sports teams. We then talked about what goals we wanted to set for our blood drives. After brainstorming, we discussed the steps we would take in designing our own blood drives and putting those ideas into motion. We called these our ‘vision statements.’
Another one of our mentors, Megan Mosiniak, presented on the chapter three of our book, “Why Do We Do This Work?” She talked about how our job is not just about meeting our goals, it is about upholding our personal and career reputations, as well as creating a sustainable legacy. She stated that purpose is just a word until it is put into action. What if you do not have a purpose? Everyone has a purpose. If you do not think you do, look back at your life and at the significant events that have shaped you as a person and as a leader. If you have not found your purpose yet, do not stress over it. Everyone discovers their purpose at a different time and in a different way. Megan then gave each of us a sheet of paper with the image of a sweet corn plant. There were four text boxes that emerged from the roots, stalk, leaves, and corn. She prompted us to think about a corn stalk. The roots grow first, then the stalk, then stem, leaves, and finally, the corn (reward). We are very much the same as people, but whether you have found your purpose or not, you should still give purpose and meaning to the things you do. Because “No one ever thanked a plaque. A plaque never inspired anyone or offered someone a helping hand. Plaques do not do that. People do.”
Our next encounter was with one of the most humble, genuine, and inspirational woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And I was only in the room with her for an hour. Can you imagine getting to work alongside of her?! Enter Gail McGovern, the President and CEO of the American Red Cross. I think I speak for every one of my colleagues when I say that it was an absolute honor to meet her. Hard at work since the young age of 14, she was vigorously determined to move her way up the career lattice. Notice I did not say ladder. This is because in reality it is more like a lattice than a ladder. You do not just go straight up from one promotion to the next. You start out at a job, and then move to jobs that may be lateral to the one you held, hence the side-to-side lattice movement. Sometimes you have to move over before you can move up. She also gave us some very valuable life lessons. One being that your colleagues are your teammates, never your adversaries. When challenging situations arise with employees, employers, or colleagues, ask yourself “How can I help my colleagues?”. More often than not, employees resort to arguing. When asked what she thought the legacy of the American Red Cross was, she stated that it was, “…to give each other the love we represent to others.” Passion and love flowed out of her as she talked of her challenges, successes, and her place in the Red Cross. Her role as President and CEO is an impossible job done by a make-it-possible woman.
Our final speaker gave the most interactive and engaging presentations yet.
Edna Cruz presented “True Colors,” a three-hour session mandatory for every incoming Red Cross employee. The session consisted of two personality tests and a team building exercise. The personality tests allowed us to better understand ourselves, see how people viewed us, and learn how to present ourselves in the way we wanted to be perceived. The team building exercise was the most challenging by far. It involved three groups trying to communicate to one another in three completely different ways. Once the exercise was over, Edna told us that it was to show us how easily problems can arise from miscommunication or a lack of communication. All these activities combined allowed us to gain different perspectives in self-awareness and communication.
With the workday over, it was time to hit the town. If anyone saw 13 student athletes running like madmen through the streets of D.C., it was us, and we are not sorry. It was all in the name of a scavenger hunt. We were given eight different locations and a different task at each location, so we laced up our running shoes got to business. We split up into three groups, all determined to win. Being on the winning side of victory is enough, but throw in FREE ice cream, compliments of Brian Hamil (is he not the greatest???) and it is game on. Not to brag or anything but MY TEAM WON. Yes, we dominated. Yes, the ice cream was worth every sweaty moment. But the memories made were worth more than anything. We laughed, sweated, and made another memory that will last a lifetime.
From listening to inspirational speakers to taking sweaty pictures with strangers in front of the White House, I feel like I am growing as a person and as a leader every single day. Every experience I have had here has challenged me so far. Our speakers have challenged my mind and my perspective. The scavenger hunt challenged both my mental and physical determination. I am learning skills that will make me a better leader. I am learning how to be a better employee, athlete, colleague, and friend. Most importantly, I am learning how to be a better version of myself.
It is only day two of this program, and I already cannot say thank you enough for being given this once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot wait to see where this program takes my colleagues and I, and I am so excited to see how we grow.