I spent A LOT of time in detention as a kid. I wasn’t a “bad” kid; I just found it difficult to stay engaged for long periods of time. I would find other ways to keep myself entertained, which usually led to my being sent to the principal’s office and getting detention -- and often, one of my friends would get in trouble as a result of my actions.
One of those principal visits had a profound impact on the person I am today. Specifically, the time I was sent to “Mrs. Z” in 5th grade. Sick of the same old song and dance -- and probably my face too -- she decided to try something different.
Mrs. Z took me on a walk. We strolled along the school’s pathway and talked. After 30 minutes or so, she told me to go back to class. At first, I was thrilled that I’d managed to get out of detention. But as I sat at my desk, our conversation began to sink in, and I realized something inside me had changed forever.
During our walk, Mrs. Z eloquently explained the meaning and importance of leadership. As our walk came to an end, she dropped a bomb on me; Mrs. Z told me I was a leader and explained how my actions directly affect my friends and classmates. She very smoothly ended with this advice, “It’s up to you to decide what type of leader you will be.”
To be clear, I continued to get detentions for the rest of my school years, but I always kept that conversation with Mrs. Z in my back pocket -- and keep there to this day.
I think everybody has those “Mrs. Z” moments, or paradigm shifts, in their lives -- an experience that changes the way we view the world and breaks our patterns of behavior. And they always seem to occur when we least expect it.
The Leadership Ouachita class I participated in this year was another “Mrs. Z moment” for me.
Leadership Ouachita is a year-long program to develop and empower the emerging leaders of northeast Louisiana. The overall goal is to make our region a better place.
This year’s class consisted of 30 people from a wide range of industries and backgrounds. We met once a month learning different aspects about our community. Each session was held at different locations, and no two classes were the same. The class ended with a graduation ceremony in November.
It all began with a two-day retreat where we mingled and met our classmates. We also “played” the infamous SIMSOC (simulated society). If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll explain:
Imagine four teams of lethal samurai wearing slacks and button-ups. Instead of swords, their weapons are pens and paper. They’re separated into small rooms. A buzzer rings -- the samurai teams are forced to fight, but they must follow an extremely complicated set of rules that don’t apply to everyone. In the middle of it, an imaginary disease spreads to all the rooms. The final buzzer goes off. The game ends.
If you still don’t understand, that’s okay. It’s impossible to explain. Just know that it’s one of the coolest and most eye-opening things I’ve ever experienced.
The following sessions had far fewer samurai battles but were in many ways just as enlightening as SIMSOC. We heard from interesting speakers that provided great insight on all types of topics -- ranging from infrastructure projects to the experimental glass used at CenturyLink. (Seriously, the glass constantly adjusts itself according to the amount of light beaming on it to keep the lighting on the inside of the building consistent.)
We spent a day traveling the city using public transportation. I could write an entire book about all the things I learned that day and how many misconceptions I had about public transit. FYI, our city buses are clean, spacious, safe, and the air conditioners would make a Canadian cold.
We traveled to Baton Rouge for “Northern Exposure.” We were given “back stage passes” to one of the most mind-boggling shows you’ll ever see -- Louisiana state government at work.
Local entrepreneurs and small business owners delivered invaluable knowledge of the tidbits they learned, challenges they faced, things they’d do differently, and the rewards of hard work and persistence.
We spoke with many local politicians, seasoned and newbies. In some cases, we challenged their policies and viewpoints, and they gave actual, non-politician responses.
And at the end of each session, our class had meaningful discussions (sometimes heated debates) over the day’s topic. The class was always engaged and present, offering fascinating solutions and point of views.
I think every person that enters Leadership Ouachita has some reason for participating. For some it’s networking, or starting a political career, or their employer is forcing them to do it. Whatever the motivation, no one really knows what they’ll get out of it until they’ve completed the class.
I got the opportunity to meet people I would otherwise never have crossed paths with. And I’m 100% better because I not only met interesting people, but I was able to interact with them on several different levels. We formed a bond unlike any I’ve experienced in my professional career.
Leadership Ouachita made me a better human being, improved my leadership skills in the workplace, and I’m a more informed and productive member of our community. I now have a better understanding of the problems we face and how to help solve them. It also reminded me that the only way to accomplish our goals is to have motivated people working together.
As Mrs. Z explained to me during a walk around school in 5th grade, “It’s up to you to decide what type of leader you will be.” I believe Leadership Ouachita has propelled me to becoming a more equipped and experienced leader. Plus, it’s been a long time since my last detention.