Attending My First Leadership Conference: Top 4 Takeaways and 16 Quotes

When I registered to attend the Warriors LEAD Summit at my university, I didn’t know what to expect. 

At first I imagined a long chain of monotone speakers presenting on unrelatable, non-applicable topics—it wasn’t because I didn’t have faith in the planning committee volunteers, but more so because I’d never been to a leadership conference before. Thankfully, my assumption couldn’t have been more wrong, and I ended up learning a lot!

Among the breakout sessions I sat in on included: “Practicing Servant Leadership,” “Leading Through Unconscious Bias,” “Fixed vs Growth Mindset: How Your Beliefs Can Sabotage Your Behavior as a Leader,” and “Optimism: You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”

Not only did the time seem to completely fly by from all the fun I was having, but also the student presenters and keynote address, “From the Streets to the Stage” by Monti Washington, were extremely informative and engaging—I was blown away, to say the very least.

For anyone who wasn’t able to attend or was skeptical about it even being worthwhile, here are my top four takeaways and 16 quotes from the February 16 leadership conference.

 

 

1.  Everyone has (unconscious) bias

Whether or not we want to admit this first point, it’s true: throughout our lives, we’ve filed away certain stereotypes in our brains about groups of people based on our personal upbringings or surroundings. Although these stereotypes are unintentional, they’re highly influential to our behavior—and can sabotage our ability to be great leaders.

  • Affinity bias:  Choosing a partner for a group project and naturally gravitating toward them because we have common ground with them, such as a coworker who we went to school with.

  • Attribution bias:  Comparing our successes and losses to someone else’s, placing more weight on our accomplishments and viewing other people’s accomplishments as disingenuous or mere products of luck—like an athlete claiming they won a game due to their training or overall skill and their opponent claiming they lost due to the referee being unfair or the winner having cheated.

  • Beauty bias:  Hiring people for group work or jobs based on the belief that beauty and success are directly related (i.e. the most attractive people are going to be the most successful), such as the selection of a particular sales representative because of their good looks and how likely they’ll be able to sell products without any prior organic skills.

  • Confirmation bias:  Choosing what to focus on about a person based on selective observation—like a romantic partner deliberately ignoring their significant other’s negative attributes to make their relationship seem more fulfilling.

Confirmation bias can be especially deceitful and blinding.

  • Halo Effect:  Focuses on only one positive trait of a person that makes them appear more perfect and successful than they truly are.

  • Horns Effect:  Demonizes a person based on only one negative trait, which prevents their full potential from being seen accurately.

 

2.  Brains are plastic!

Okay, I’m pretty confident we all know that brains aren’t literally plastic—this is, of course, a metaphor meaning our brains and the way we think are both moldable and open to change. We are in control with how we approach situations, especially difficult ones.

  • Fixed mindset:  Not effective for successful leadership due to the desire to seek validation from others, the lack of desire to try new things and take risks and the overall fear of failure.

  • Growth mindset:  Excellent for successful leadership due to the centralized goal of mastery and competence, the perseverance to not quit at the first sight of a challenge and the internal drive of self-motivation.

While someone with a fixed mindset may say “I can’t do this,” their counterpart with a growth mindset will respond with “I can’t do this yet.”

  • The power of “yet”:  Implies there’s a future opportunity to gain knowledge and assistance with a task, rather than insinuating there’s no hope for progress.

To be a good leader means to be a mentor and collaborator, not a judge on someone’s inabilities: “Praise effort, not talent.”

 

3.  Optimists aren’t always happy

It would be a blatant lie for me (or anyone) to claim that everything in the world and our daily lives is awesome—no one is immune from crappy moods... not even optimists.

  • Solution-focused:  Think about how past mistakes occurred in the first place and how they can be prevented from occuring again.

  • Future-oriented:  View the future in a positive light by focusing on opportunities versus obstacles.

  • Resilient:  Accept the realities of life—bad things are going to happen regardless of what you do—and be able to bounce back from any setbacks.

Although optimists aren’t robots, they sure do make terrific leaders!

 

4.  We don’t look like our stories

This is, perhaps, the most pivotal message Monti Washington made during his keynote address. In his words, our past experiences don’t form us—as in, they don’t define where we’ll end up or who we’ll become—but rather they inform us—they give us knowledge regarding where we don’t want to end up or who we don’t want to become.

As much as some of us like to believe that by a single glance at a person, we can tell what they’re thinking or what their character is like, this is false.

  • With just one look, you can’t tell that someone grew up in a broken home, was raised by a single parent or witnessed domestic abuse; you can’t tell that they themselves were ever abused.

  • With just one look, you can’t tell that someone struggles with anxiety or depression and has contemplated taking their life on multiple occasions; you can’t tell that they were almost successful with their prior attempts.

  • With just one look, you can’t tell that someone has lost a person close to them due to illness, drug addiction, alcoholism or incarceration; you can’t tell that they’ve lost someone they loved.

  • With just one look, you can’t tell that someone has ever lived or is currently living in poverty.

Moral of the story:  If we did, in fact, look like our stories, then we’d always be stuck in the past. We don’t look like our stories because we choose to be resilient and move forward from such difficult challenges and tragedies. It’s up to us to break the vicious cycles that are hard to shake. We don’t look like our stories, and that’s something to be proud of!

 

 

Besides this goosebump-raising message, Monti gave an incredible presentation in which he seemed to be offering noteworthy quotes with every passing minute (which he’d cue by telling us “Y’all, I’m dropping dimes—you better pick ‘em up!”). Check out these 16 quotes that are sure to leave you saying “Wow.”

 

ABOUT CONFIDENCE

1)  “You cannot achieve a level-10 dream if your confidence is at a level five.”

2)  “We can’t outperform the belief we have in ourselves.”

3)  “To be anything other than what you’re supposed to be, than who you are, than who you were born to be, is a crime—it’s identity theft.”

4)  “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

5)  “In order to fly, you must First Love Yourself.”

 

ABOUT PUTTING IN THE WORK

6)  “You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.”

7)  “You have to finish what you start in order to get what you want.”

8)  “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

9)  “We don’t like to be called average, yet we live average lives.”

10)  “You don’t need a college education to get a job—everybody I know with a job is Just Over Broke. What you want is a career.”

 

ABOUT PEERS, FRIENDS AND SIGNIFICANT OTHERS

11)  “If you’re prepared to take someone’s advice, be prepared to take on their lifestyle.”

12)  “Fakers, haters, takers—these are the three types of people to look out for.”

13)  “If you have to question if someone’s real in the first place, they’re fake.”

14)  “Truth be told, aren’t we our biggest haters?”

15)  “Takers tend to ask for a hand-out rather than a hand—there’s a difference.”

16)  “We date at our self-esteem level.”

 

 

For anyone who wasn’t able to attend or was skeptical about the leadership conference even being worthwhile, I can personally attest that it’s something everyone should make the time for. Regardless if you hold an official leadership position in a club or organization on campus, going to a leadership conference such as this one will improve your outlook on many other things in life that can help you become a more inclusive, well-rounded human being.

I would 10/10 recommend the Warriors LEAD Summit to other students, and I honestly can’t wait for what next year’s conference will open my eyes to!

 

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