News - When I Was President

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When I Was President

40 Years of Learning and Leading in Student Government When I Was President

The election of a Greenville College Student Association (GCSA) president dates back to 1913. Four GCSA presidents, spanning four decades, share the leadership lessons they learned while serving.

A Painful Lesson in Commitment

Dale Benson ’63 vividly remembers the summer of 1962 – the summer before he took office as president of GCSA. He spent that time on disciplinary probation for violating GC’s code of conduct. “What did I learn from that? I learned the importance of being true to one’s word,” shares Dale. “If you sign a piece of paper that says you will not go to movies, whether or not you agree with what you signed, you don’t go to movies. That lesson has served me well over the years.”

He also learned skills like running a business meeting and implementing ideas in an organization. He developed an appreciation for transparency in leadership and “the critical role of lavish communication.” And, most importantly, Dale learned about servant leadership by watching the varied and vivid examples around Greenville College. Professors and administrators served as role models and mentors, “continually challenging me toward the elusive goal of increased maturity.”

Once Dale finished medical school, he planned to join a Michigan group doing short-term medical mission work. A delay in the project, however, compelled Dale to stay in inner city Indianapolis and start two small, storefront clinics. That led to a 30-year career as the executive director of what is now known as HealthNet, a network of clinics providing primary health care to persons in poverty. “I was captured by the mission, in love with the patients and energized by the challenge,” Dale says. By the time he moved to Los Angeles to work with AltaMed, an even larger inner city health care group, HealthNet was providing 100,000 patient visits, delivering 1,200 babies, and making 12,000 home visits each year.

Over the years, Dale has filled a number of leadership roles with community, civic and professional organizations. Why? “A major key was a willingness to raise one’s hand and say ‘How can I help? Count me in. I will be happy to do it,’” he said. That readiness to help, along with a growing reputation for innovation, collaboration and success, often allows Dale to share his leadership lessons with others.

Read more: "Take Care: The Gentle Wisdom of a Caring Leader".

A Lasting Lesson in Conflict

The campaign for student association president was contentious and difficult for Laura Creighton ’73, and it carried over to significantly impact her time in office. At one meeting, the student association members split into two factions, and the faculty representative could not resolve the antagonistic situation. “I called for the vice president to take my place for a brief time, just to allow myself to walk away and collect my emotions,” Laura remembers.

Time passed and the relationships healed. Through the process and the advice of President Orley Herron, Laura learned a valuable lesson: “If I wanted to be an effective leader with integrity, I would experience loneliness.” This lesson continues to guide her today. “I have learned that the Enemy will often blindside me by causing me to focus on myself. Each time, I have to remember to keep my eyes on the Problemsolver, not the problem!”

After a 36-year career in public education, Laura became a certified mediator. She now uses the communication skills she began developing as a campus leader to help people determine the true source of conflict and come to creative solutions. “The only difference between handling teenage discipline issues, lawsuits, workplace mediation or divorce cases is the age of the parties,” she observes. By remembering the foundations of her faith and the lessons learned through leadership, Laura is able to serve others as an impartial advocate in the midst of conflict.

A Kingdom Lesson in Restoring Dignity

The leadership lessons David Goodnight ’83 learned as student association president were Christian to the core. “I learned about Christ-centered leadership that valued prayer and treated others with dignity and respect,” he reflects. His team of campus leaders made their faith active when they learned about the deteriorating state of an elderly blind woman’s Greenville home. Buckets collecting rainwater throughout indicated a roof in need of repair. The students raised funds and provided labor to replace the roof. “I remember the joy we felt by doing something to help,” David recalls.

After graduation, David pursued a successful legal career and is now a senior partner at a Seattle law firm. His resume is full of civic activities where he has used the practical skills he honed at GC. However, his attitude toward personal leadership remains humble.

“Leadership is less about making things happen and more about responding to what the Lord is doing,” explains David. “He causes the growth; He makes valuable connections. We have a part to play, to be sure. But in a very real sense, we as leaders are responding to what God is doing. His kingdom is uplifting, never defeated, always growing. So, we can join in that kingdom advance as Christian leaders, with great joy and optimism.”

A Grueling Lesson in Perseverance

For Fontbonne University’s head volleyball coach Meredith (McDaniels ’03) Heater, her year as GCSA president began with a strenuous, but transformative week. “Walkabout was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had,” says Meredith, referring to the 10-day wilderness venture taken on by recent student leaders. “Challenges are hard, but they allow us to see what we are truly capable of. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

As student government president, Meredith learned the importance of seeing the overall goal and prioritizing tasks. She now applies those same skills to balance her career and family life. “With four kids at home, my family takes priority over my career. I try to remain focused on the big picture and let go of the little things that don’t matter as much,” says Meredith.

Meredith also learned to lead by surrounding herself with skilled and talented people. As GCSA president, she cooperated with her cabinet to set goals and work on a common agenda. As head coach, Meredith collaborates with a full coaching staff whose members have different perspectives, but share the same objective of building a winning team. Teamwork in leadership pays dividends on the court. Meredith has seen her career thrive even while she gives priority to her family, church, and community involvement. Each new challenge is a now an opportunity for success.

Read more: "Lessons in Leadership: Campus and Congregation," Donald Bastian '53

This story was published on October 11, 2013

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