Leading With Integrity
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Leading With Integrity

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Leading With Integrity

There is an old saying, “You are who you hang around.”

I believe that this is true. The people that you hang around influence you, your beliefs, the decisions you make and the series of events and choices that, inevitably, shape all of our lives. Thinking back to high school, it was always very cliquey and every group had a label. The jocks hung with the jocks, the nerds with the nerds, the popular kids always dated the popular kids, drama and music students hung with one another and so forth.

More often than not, this was how we formed friendships. Transitioning into college, we attempt to break those barriers, but I find that it still holds true, to some degree. Even when filling out our initial housing application, if we are going in blind, we must answer a series of questions so that the “sorting hand can play match-maker” and put us with those who are most similar to ourselves. This process often works, and we make new friends. Other times, the match is a disaster.

Rushing for a sorority is the same process, although on a different level. You sign up to rush and over the course of a week, the process sorts you out. Based on your initial interviews and meetings, houses are dropped and added. Questions arise, “Do I fit in here. Do we share the same interests and values? Are the girls like me? Does the house feel like home?”

Inevitably, I believe, you end up where you truly belong. But sometimes, based on these initial meetings and processing all the things that make us who we are, we might miss the opportunity for a new experience, or to make a new friend, because the initial commonality might not be so apparent. 

In December, I received an email telling me that I was nominated to attend a six-day intensive, all expenses paid leadership workshop focusing on “leading with integrity.” The application involved a thoughtful, concentrated application about me, my hopes, my leadership experiences and what makes a good leader. They said it was a highly competitive process and I would be notified if I had been selected.

Months later, after having forgotten about the application, I was notified of my selection. There were 800 applicants and I was one of the 50 who were selected. I was instructed to report to a designated location and plan on working for the next six days from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.

I had no idea what to expect. My whole life, I have always gravitated toward those who share the same values and outward interests as I do. Whether it was running cross-country, playing basketball, being in the play, doing broadcasting, these were obvious interests that brought me together with the people I socialized with and came to call friends. This was different. Leading with integrity? 

This ambiguous concept is not definitive. It is not like we are all coming together because we love to run, or we all love to cook. Every leader is different. I didn't know anyone attending, so I wondered what would this experience would bring.  

I packed my bags, met at the departure location and boarded the bus. I was about to discover, over the course of the next six days, not only things about myself, but all the other incredible people who were participating. What an amazing six days it was. 

I was rooming with a beautiful young woman from China who spoke three different languages. We stayed up talking until the wee hours of the morning, learning about our different cultures and discovering so many similarities we shared and how we interact with people. Why, we wondered, don't we venture too far away from the comfort of our clique.

My roommate broke down the stereotype of the Chinese on campus. They are not all rich, driving beautiful cars. She was surprised I was a sorority woman, because I was different from the stereotype she encountered. We both realized that by being there to discuss leadership, we had come to discover so much about one another and it brought us closer.

During the six days, I had the privilege of meeting people from so many different backgrounds and I learned all about their beliefs and values, their passion for helping their community and the world by “leading with integrity” and breaking bonds of stereotypes and cliques. 

This was a group I may have never had the chance to encounter because, on the outside, we naturally gravitate toward people we see commonalities with. They are not in the same field of study, they were not part of a sorority, we did not share the same religion or culture, but we did find that we had so much in common. These individuals all shared the love of leadership and that brought us together.

We found the basis for friendship through our core beliefs. I am majoring in broadcasting so, in classes and other group projects, I usually don't have the opportunity to meet someone studying engineering or global politics because that is not where my daily activities and interests may lie. But here, with 50 individuals from different parts of the world, we encountered friendship.

I left with a greater understanding of how to lead, be inclusive and, even more importantly, to open my eyes to discover the common ground in all of us. That is what enhances our world and allows us to make new friends and discoveries. I realized what an amazing experience this had been. 

Leaders are leaders no matter what group you are leading and, initially, that intangible drive is what brought us together. As the week progressed, I learned so much about leadership and myself. Ironically, the greatest lesson I took home was that it is not always the obvious outward symbols that  are the catalyst in fostering the bonds of friendship.

A leadership conference was the most unlikely place I would have ever have thought of for making new friends. That is the beauty of life. Friends can be found everywhere. Yes, we are who we hang around, but our friendship circle can get bigger if we keep our eyes and minds open.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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