By: Caroline Franzen
During the summer before my junior year of high school, my cheerleading team had begun to prepare for the homecoming pep assembly. This routine would be the biggest and most fabulous routine we would put together all season, and all of our peers would be watching. Per usual, my coach had placed me and the other upperclassmen in the best positions, grouped us with the most talented stunt groups, and positioned us right in the front where we could be seen by all of our friends. On the other hand, the underclassmen and newbies took their positions toward the back where they could watch the more experienced members do our thing if they got lost during the routine. Finally moving to the front for the homecoming routine had me so pumped because all of my time and experience had finally paid off.
However, the following week at practice, my coach decided it would be best to swap my position with a sophomore who had better dancing experience than I did. A SOPHOMORE. The idea of giving up the position that I had earned to a girl who had just joined the team was not okay with me. Out of my own selfish pride, I decided to completely ignore her. I didn’t want to teach her the dance moves or anything, just because I was bitter that she took my spot.
By the time homecoming came around, the routine was a disaster. The timing of the whole routine was off because, without any help, the sophomore wasn’t able to learn the new choreography or skills in time. She simply could not keep up throughout the routine, and unfortunately, the rest of the team was thrown off. Everyone was disappointed afterward, but I especially was because I knew that I could’ve done something to prevent the routine from going wrong.
Two years later, I graduated from high school and was given the opportunity to be a first-year Junior Counselor at MASC/MAHS Student Leadership Camp. As a Junior Counselor, I was paired with a wonderful Senior Counselor, Michael Nafso. If you’ve heard of him, it’s probably because he’s basically a legend. As a staff pair, it was our job to facilitate a curriculum loaded with leadership lessons to a group of about 20 high school students. With it being my first year on camp staff, I came into the experience with very little knowledge of how to facilitate activities, lead a debrief session, or manage a group of hyperactive high school students. Lucky for me, Michael did. Between his past Junior Counselor and high school teaching experiences, he had the whole thing covered.
However, instead of handling everything himself just because he was able to, Michael took the opportunity to train me throughout the week. He encouraged me to set goals that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt otherwise, and his confidence in me and my abilities motivated me to continue to work hard and gain more knowledge throughout the week. Through it all, he continuously provided me with constructive criticism and positive feedback so I knew what I could improve on next time. I came out of the experience feeling so grateful for the way Michael took the opportunity to mentor and empower me, but I began to question whether or not I do the same in my everyday life.
I first thought back to the way I treated my teammate two years before – a situation I was not able to forget. What If I would have taken the opportunity to teach her about her new position? To mentor her, rather than letting my pride get the best of me? To give her tips and feedback that could help her become better, which in turn, would have made the whole team better? She was plainly given the opportunity by my coach, but no one was willing to mentor her or provide encouragement.
Unfortunately, that opportunity had passed, but I became more aware of the importance of empowerment, encouragement, and passing on knowledge. It became clear to me that adding value to others through encouragement and knowledge is one of the best ways to strengthen an organization and create an environment that fuels improvement. Whether you hold an official leadership position or not, the opportunities to empower others are endless. There are countless teammates, friends, council members, and fellow students that have the potential to learn and be more, if only they could be given the opportunity or insight that you possess. Also, by providing the people in our lives with the chance to grow, along with knowledge, encouragement, and feedback, they will learn to empower others in the same way.
With Michael being an example, the MASC/MAHS staff strives to lift each other up by empowering each other and passing on knowledge as often as possible. As long as our staff continues to do that, we can continue to empower and teach our students as well. I used to lead only for the purpose of improving myself, but thanks to my experience in this organization, my fellow staff members, and the wonderful students, I now treasure the opportunities I have to improve others and help them reach their potentials as leaders.
All of this being said, I hope you look for opportunities to take a step back in order to lift others up, encourage them wholeheartedly, pass down knowledge to them, and guide them along the way. If we do this consistently, we will not be making followers, but we will be on our way to creating leaders.