Erin Jenson ’17- Theta Emerging Leaders Institute

On Thursday, July 10th, I flew out to Indianapolis for Kappa Alpha Theta’s Emerging Leaders Institute. The flight was short and sweet. When I got off the plane, I was hit by some glorious rays of sun along with the Indiana humidity. I knew this was going to be a fun and educational experience that I would never forget. As soon as I met these women, I felt like I had known them my entire life. Theta’s values stretch across a lot of borders!  We all felt such an instant connection.

Theta ELI 1 77 Thetas from across the country piled into the dorms at Butler University to begin our workshop. On the first day, we took a comprehensive, individualized strengths test that determined our individual top five attributes. The test was shockingly accurate, describing me as strategic, an achiever, a communicator, restorative, and strong in individualization. Our leadership director said it was important, in any case of leadership, to develop and use our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses. This is a piece of advice that I hadn’t really grasped before this moment, as I tend to be very self-critical. She supported her advice with several studies that showed that successful people focus on their strengths. It is much more efficient to go from being good at a skill to excellent than it is from being below average to mediocre!

We learned that it is also important for good learners to delegate, which means that, in a group, people all have different talents. A good team will be successful when everyone is at full strength. People can be strategic, influencing, relational, or executing, or a mix of these types. A successful team will have people in each category. As a leader, it is your responsibility to empower others and seek input. Command leadership is much less effective compared to empowering leadership.

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The next day we learned about ethical leadership. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that ethics are not black and white. She opened with a quote from the great Professor Dumbledore, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” We were given an example of an ethical dilemma and asked how we would have handled it. I liked how the instructors at ELI never spoon-fed us answers. Instead, they asked thought-provoking questions that led us to think about ourselves further than ever before. I learned that everyone has different values and every choice we make is rooted in the various ideals we believe in. Some people value truth over loyalty. Some people value friendship over love. This is absolutely fascinating to me because I thought over some of the conflicts in my own life and realized that people’s choices were never “morally wrong.” For example, if a friend tells a secret they were trusted with, they value truth over loyalty. Theta ELI 4

 Over the course of the weekend, I made great friendships and had a blast! We had dance parties, took tons of photos, and even had a T-shirt swap. I heard so many stories about chapters from other campuses. I think the main takeaway was that Alpha Beta NEEDS a house! Each girl described their houses and I couldn’t believe how nice they were.

Headquarters was incredible. The building had so much history and art there. They had many sacred paintings and badges from as old as 1877. There was a shelf that had all the books ever written by any Theta, including Laura Bush. Down in the basement, there is this HUGE, secret, fire-proofed room with every single sisters’ pledge card filed by chapter. It was amazing! I pulled out the drawer of Alpha Beta and had the chance to look at everyone’s card from Swarthmore. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, otherwise I would have photographed all of them.   The last night, we all sat down for our final discussion and felt so emotional and empowered. We learned the potential of our impact on the world as well as the power of vision-setting. Thetas are strong, smart, and ambitious women who have the unlimited zest for positive change. I developed a greater sense about what being a Theta means. People will sometimes ask, “Why are you in Theta” and the answer I always gave was “because of the friends.”  It’s much more than that though. Thetas are united on positive values and we encourage professional and moral development. It’s also about comradery, commitment, as well as personal growth. I’ve changed because of the people around me. I’ve become a better person because of the commonality of excellence. That’s why we say, “Surround yourself with those who lift you higher.”

We all teared up and hugged each other. It was so special!

As I boarded my plane home on Sunday, I felt honored that I was part of such an amazing group of ladies.  We each wrote down our goals for our chapters this year, signed them, and gave them to headquarters. I said that my goal was to spread information about Theta’s movement for positive change as well as turning the wheels for our chapter’s house! I’m so excited for another great year as a Theta and I would encourage anyone from my chapter to attend ELI next year. It was absolutely incredible!  Theta ELI 5

If you want to take a look at the whole experience, we documented all the photos, tweets, and lessons on a blog so feel free to take a look:

https://storify.com/magadocia/theta-emerging-leaders-institute-2014