Reflections on Lead365: Mike Cronin

As we start a new year already looking ahead to our next conference, we want to share a few looks back. Today, we’re sharing with you a paper our intern Mike Cronin wrote while at the conference. Which of the lessons shared below resonated with you the most?

Value. As I write this paper, a man is on stage in the next room talking about it. He is talking about value and cost: what they mean, and how we live every day, down to the details of buying even the simplest things. Do we need this, or do we want people to see we have it? For me this is a paper on an experience costing me nothing more than a few questions and hours to write. On the other hand, for you Professor Malfitano, this paper may, or may not, have value.

This conference came about from Nancy Hunter Denny and her ability to create. As a collegiate leadership speaker, she has seen the good and the bad of leadership conferences, and knew that she could do much better. Her friends and colleagues jumped to be a part of this, which had its first conference this past March (and its second this past week). For this paper I asked these people what they wanted these students to take away from the conference.

Judson Laipply is famous. You probably don’t know his name, but you have definitely seen a YouTube video of his: The Evolution of Dance. His response to my question was “that our choices are more of a reflection of our values than our words.”

Dr. Maura Cullen, an authority figure on diversity and leadership (and also a board member for Lead365) said that she “would love for them to understand the concept of intent verses impact.”

Paul Brown, a social media expert, said that “social media perverts reality” and that everyone gets presents perfected images and consumes perfected images. He wants these students of leadership to know better and be better.

Joshua Fredenburg had one word to say, “Purpose”. These speakers have come from around the country to speaker at this little conference of 380 student leaders, where I can guarantee they are not making money, to give back and help repurpose the leaders in our colleges and these future leaders of tomorrow. Dr. Lucy Croft, who is the associate Vice-President for Student Affairs at the University of North Florida said that she wants these student leaders “feeling empowered to make a difference and making their vision come to fruition.”

Students came from around the country and Mexico too, to take part in an experience that was put on by the elite in collegiate leadership. For me, this was just a part of my internship, to help others have an experience that they will not soon forget and can use to build their soft leadership skills. Lastly, what I hoped these students took away is optimism. People will forget what you said, what you did, but that they will never forget how you made them feel and if all they took optimism in their ability to make a difference in one life, a hundred or the world then we did our job.

We want to hear your reflections on the conference too! Have you put what you learned in Orlando into action? Let us know!


Meet Our Sponsors: Check I’m Here

Believe it or not, the march toward next year’s conference is already moving! As we go, we want to introduce you to some of the people that make it happen. Today, we’re chatting with Lindsay Murdock, Campus Outreach Coordinator for Check I’m Here!

Image Credit: LinkedIn


A: Tell us a little about Check I’m Here. What does the product do?

L: Check I’m Here provides a web and mobile platform to universities and colleges to help increase student engagement, assess involvement, allocate funding efficiently, and improve retention through simplifying and digitizing processes, collecting, structuring, and analyzing involvement data, and provides tools to help reach and engage more students. You can learn more at

We were started by former student leaders who found a need for a data focused approach to increasing engagement on campus and we’re passionate about making sure all students have the opportunities to experience what happens when you get involved on campus and in leadership positions.

A: How did you get involved with the company? What do you love most about what you do?

L: I found out about Check I’m Here through the Student Affairs Facebook group, a networking page for Student Affairs Professionals from across the nation. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of the team because I believe in the mission of Check I’m Here and I love helping campuses to improve the student experience.

Being an involved student is what made me who I am today, so I love providing the technology for campuses to improve these experiences for their students The ability to connect with passionate people is what makes me excited to come into work every day, so that’s probably my favorite part of the job. Between my innovative coworkers and the dedicated campus leaders I work with every day, I leave work every day energized to come in the next day!

A: Why do you think that Lead365 and Check I’m Here are a natural fit to join forces?

L: Our missions align in a manner that prioritizes human capital and empowers student leaders and student affairs professionals to serve their campuses (and the greater good) and make the world a better place! We’re able to do this by empowering human connections to build networks that utilize people’s strengths to create change. Finally, at the base level, we all come from the student affairs field, so that’s a bond that allows us to prioritize the students in everything we do!

A: As a former student leader, how did it feel to be at Lead365?

L: I loved it! The energy was infectious, the students were thoughtful and the ed sessions were super motivating! Watching everyone get excited to learn more and hone their potential reinforced my love for student affairs!

A: As student leaders who are now out in the world, what advice do you have for the leaders still in school that we work with each day?

Say yes! Whenever opportunities present themselves, say yes to them! You only have a few years in school and it’s so important to throw yourself outside of your comfort zone to grow as a person as a leader. And when the opportunities you want don’t present themselves, create your own. Build a network that allows you to succeed and take risks and eventually those risks will lead to greater opportunities!

Bonus Note from Lindsay and the Check I’m Here team: When you graduate, hit us up. We’re hiring 😉

Know of another company that would be a great natural fit to support Lead365? Share our Sponsorship Opportunities with them!

Lead365 Follow-Up: Re-Explore, Re-Engage, Re-Evolve

About two weeks ago, more than three hundred student leaders converged in Orlando, Florida for the Lead365 conference. There were student leaders from the Virgin Islands, from Mexico, from South Dakota, from Delaware, from New York… from almost anywhere you can imagine! For three days together we learned life’s lessons, created connections, and made memories. And just like that, the conference was over. We hopped on our planes, trains, and busses back to our hometowns.

Have you heard from anyone since?

No, your own classmates do not count. I want to know if you have spoken with anyone from a different school than your own. We were supposed to stop networking and start connecting, weren’t we? So why haven’t we contacted any of our new friends?

Our issue might lie in our interpretation of “Explore. Engage. Evolve.” Some of us may have been led to believe that the process is linear.

We explored opportunities for leadership growth and choose to attend Lead365.

We engaged with an amazing staff to learn invaluable skill sets.

We evolved our programs back at campus by utilizing our new growth and skill sets to make new, and probably necessary, changes.

And then we stopped.

But why have we stopped? The process was never intended to be linear, it was intended to be a never-ending cycle. We need to go back to the beginning.

We need to re-Explore. What does your program do well? What does your program need to work on? It seems like every school has a leadership program nowadays. Do you think that one of your new connections from the conference may have a similar problem? Maybe you can work it out together. Do you think that one of your new connections may actually have a strength where you have a weakness? Maybe he can tell you what he does so that you can adapt your own program to be more successful.

At Lead365, Marlon Smith challenged us to keep our arms raised for three straight minutes. It was hard on our own. But when we heard the feel-good vibe of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” over the speaker system, it suddenly was not as challenging anymore. We could hold each other up. Together, we can achieve more than any of us can achieve alone.

And that is why it is so necessary for us to re-Engage. Make the first move. Message your new friend from Baltimore. The conversation does not need to be long. Just let her know that you were thinking of her and was wondering how she was doing. It can be a small gesture with profound effects. You never know when you might have a problem that she’ll understand, and maintaining that friendship is the best way to ensure that help will always be there for you when you are in need.

But don’t just stop there, re-Evolve. Use the process to keep growing. The name of the conference is Lead365, not Lead3. So spend 365 days a year exploring, engaging, and evolving. Our greatest success lies not in what we learned in three days at a conference, but rather in teaching what we learned in the other 362.

Jordan Griffen is a Leadership Mentor at SUNY-Geneseo in Geneseo, NY. Should you wish to move from networking to connecting with him, you can find him on LinkedIn or Facebook!

Top Five: Encouraging Student Reflection Through Blogging

This fall, Lead365 is adding to its repertoire of conferences and leadership resources with a new Reflection Journal! Designed to guide you to reflect on each of Dr. Corey Seemiller’s Student Leadership Competencies, it is a wonderful mixture of thought-provoking quotes to get your wheels turning…and the open space to take your journey. Today’s Top Five from Ohio Dominican’s Becca Fick talks about how to prime your students for success in reflection.

IMAGE CREDIT: Ohio Dominican University

What sorts of experiences did you have as a student leader that led you to want to continue working with college students?

My student involvement was the one thing that kept me in school. I was a member of the summer orientation staff and a college 101 course assistant, on the dance team, and an officer in my sorority. I don’t mean to say that my academics weren’t important – I was a triple major and accepted into a few honors societies -but that I can directly trace my retention to my involvement on campus. Paying for a private school education as a first generation college student was incredibly challenging for me, but knowing I had a people who were counting on me pushed me to work hard over the summer to pay down my balance as much as possible. It also meant touch points over the summer – orientation sessions, dance camp, and leadership retreats – and commitments to uphold in the fall. I know how valuable campus involvement can be for students because I’ve seen first hand the role it played in my own growth, development, and retention.


How did your undergraduate background in journalism and applied writing inform how you choose to work with students each day? Storytelling and clear, concise communication. I have a deep and sincere appreciation for people’s stories and perspectives that I credit to my background in journalism. Though I don’t write feature stories on all of the students who come through my office, I certainly could. Applied Writing is about communicating clearly in a way that an audience can understand. Between emails, presentations, meetings, and 1-1 interactions, this it the writing jargon version of using language to “meet them where they are.”  While I find writing and reflecting both natural and rewarding, it is also important to realize that this is not the case for everyone and multiple forms of reflection should be considered.

While I find writing and reflecting both natural and rewarding, it is also important to realize that this is not the case for everyone and multiple forms of reflection should be considered.

There is a heightened call to create opportunities for college students to reflect on their experiences- why do you think that is? The job market is more competitive than ever and it’s not enough to have a college degree anymore. Couple this with the increased regulations and call for higher education to prove our value and you have an environment ripe for providing rich experiences. As the field of Leadership Development continues to grow, we will see more emphasis in this area as well. It is not enough for a student to participate in an experience; the learning and development that signal change and growth happen when students engage in reflection and meaning making processes. Blogging is a sort of hybrid of journaling and small group discussions, tools already readily used by educators. Whether you are using Kolb’s Learning Styles or Bloom’s Taxonomy, research shows the value of including reflection in the learning and meaning-making process.


Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more contemplative and reflective experience for students through blogging. How do we get this going for our students?

Point/Tip One:  Blogs are not essays or journals.

Blogging requires a different level of thinking and writing than a personal journal, or even one shared with a teacher. Blogging makes your thoughts 3 dimensional. It takes them from being 1) in your head to 2) in front of a teacher or professor, and into 3) a space for discussion, interaction, and feedback. There is a different level of thoughtfulness when your writing may be read by someone else, by strangers even. That’s not to suggest that you should over think blogging either, or trap yourself in analysis paralysis – it’s not that serious.

If college is about finding yourself, blogging is about finding your voice.  Unlike writing a paper or answering a question on a midterm, blogging asks you to write like you think. This runs contrary to the writing skills students have learned through formal education. Students learn to write the answers teachers are looking for, the answers that will pass a standardized test, the answers that are right. This is the greatest reward – and the greatest challenge – of blogging for students and teachers alike.

Point/Tip Two:  Make it easy.

Especially for beginning bloggers and those who may not know where to start, give them prompts or a structure to work within.

What? So What? Now What?

I like using these three questions to create reflection prompts for students. Whether you are giving students a prompt for reflection or asking them to create their own, this format is easily adapted and easy to remember.

  • What? Explain the thing you did or experienced. (ex Service project, leadership workshop, study abroad trip, internship)
  • So What? What happened because of this experience? (experience new culture, new meeting management skills, learned to use excel, relationships, etc)
  • Now What? As a result of this experience, how have you changed or grown? What will you do with this new information?

Point/Tip Three:  Don’t limit it to writing.

Playing with the format can address multiple learning styles and intelligences. Writing comes naturally for some students, while creating a video blog or a photo essay may be easier for others. For example, when discussing and processing identity, visual aids can be incredibly helpful in helping a student tell their story.

An assignment might look like this: Take pictures of what your culture values. Define your culture. What do you value? Where do your values come from?

Point/Tip Four:  The Internet is forever.

Sites like WordPress rank high in search engine results and can be a benefit to students when creating and curating an online presence. There are plenty of resources available about personal branding and career development, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include this reminder in a top 5 list.

Point/Tip Five:  Model the Way

The best way to be familiar with a tool is to use it. In this case, it’s also an excellent way to model expectations and engage in the learning process with students. If we aren’t willing to do the things we talk about and advocate, they (students) know. The power you have to influence students is unfathomable. Start somewhere. Believe in it, even if its imperfect (and it will be). Give yourself (and your students) the grace to try it.


If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create an environment that fosters and encourages a blogging spirit, what would you suggest?

If you want to help students develop their identity, give them a place to develop their voice. If you want students to be meaningful contributors to society, give them something bigger to be a part of. They’re ready for it.



reflections journal cover
Look for more details about purchasing your own Lead365 Reflections journal!


Read365: Krista Prince Reviews Leading Imperfectly

As our more frequent readers already know, we at Lead365 believe that reading is a fundamental piece of the leadership development process. Today, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Krista Prince reviews a leadership book that’s new to the scene- popular college speaker James Robilotta’s Leading Imperfectly.

Thank you, Krista! IMAGE CREDIT: UNC Chapel Hill



In his new book Leading Imperfectly, James Robilotta models the way; he transparently, accessibly, and humorously shares his story in an effort to encourage readers to lead authentically.  He assures readers that “your story is good enough,” and can be a starting place for leadership: “connecting with others, empowering them to be their best authentic selves, and working together toward a common goal” (p. 152 & p. 106).  James’ emphasis on learning and relating through leadership, and his analysis of power in leadership, proved particularly poignant for me in considering how to lead authentically if imperfectly.

Relating and Communicating

James explores the importance of relationships for leadership, and makes critical points about the interpersonal nature of leadership. The ideas about communication that resonated with me most include: sharing why and not just that I love someone, showing a curiosity about others, being appreciative of the time others (e.g. students) give, considering how I make others feel, asking if something bigger might be influencing behavior, spending time investing despite being “busy,” and listening actively.  It’s my hope that engaging some of these recommendations more intentionally when working with students might foster a stronger sense of vulnerability that strengthens our communication and thereby our relationships.

We’ve all worked with, or even been, overcommitted students with far too much on our metaphorical plates. As an advisor, I find that helping students realize the implications of their over-commitment can be a delicate balance: helping students realize the ways that their over-commitment has been detrimental to the caliber of their work or well-being, while simultaneously focusing on their strengths and achievements. Robilotta’s personal story of a past supervisor’s “pie” activity at the conclusion of which she asked: “’is it fair that each of these commitments only gets a small percentage of your energy and time?’” stood out as a powerful way to frame these challenging, but necessary conversations (p.86).  This particular example serves as just one of many that professional advisors and supervisors may find applicable in their own work of helping students learn through leading.


Learning and Leading

Robilotta’s emphasis on the “learning, teaching, and growing that happens along the way” is congruent with my own approach to leadership development (p. 36).  His reminder that perfection is incongruent with this approach gave me pause to consider how I might be more authentic in my work with students and colleagues.  I am left considering how competence and imperfection are not as incompatible as they may seem, and how my own vulnerability might support others in developing through leadership experiences.

Robilotta asserts that “having a title means you’ve earned a responsibility to share your knowledge with others” (p.117). This line in particular struck me because I find that often in Student Affairs, we spend so much time on tasks and administration that we often forget the importance of education. I too agree that we have a responsibility to share our knowledge, in its many forms, with others: experiential knowledge (mistakes & successes), resources, literature, best practices, and so forth. As leaders, it’s important that we commit to continual knowledge-seeking and sharing.  It’s also critical that we interrogate our own learning and leading in an effort to relate more equitably with people.


Power and Leadership

As a student affairs professional, I spend a lot of time reflecting on notions of “fit” in hiring practices and the construct of “professionalism” as incongruous with our commitment to inclusion.  James is perhaps the first author who I have seen discuss the construct of professionalism as problematic, even patriarchal: “being professional means curbing your emotions to remain as even-keeled as possible” (p.110).  He acknowledges how he can use the privilege he has to push back against the “tradition of professionalism” and norms that hold people back.  While this section could be developed into a book itself, it provides a starting place for those leading recruitment and hiring or for those with the power to set expectations around “professionalism” (dress codes for example) to ponder and perhaps even disrupt the dominant discourses that inhibit authenticity.

Another area where Robilotta (2015) explores power was through communication.  He reminds us that healthy conversations require an equal playing ground, and I found his comments around reprimanding emails to be particularly important. He elaborates that such messages take the power away from the recipient and are therefore unhealthy modes for communicating.  Even when we aim to have an equal playing ground, titles and positions can sometimes mean that this is not the reality, and leaders must intentionally consider the very real implications of their positions for interpersonal interactions.


I hope you will take the time to read James’ book and consider what leading imperfectly means for you.  His personal examples will surely provide you new insights from which to interrogate your own authentic leadership, and I hope it will provide you with the courage needed to be vulnerable in your relationships and leadership too.

Conference Retreat Guide: Walt Disney World

One of our favorite selling points about the coming conference is the opportunity to host a retreat day at the best possible offsite venue- the theme parks of Orlando, FL! But with any retreat, it helps to have an agenda. We want to help you structure that agenda. So here are some of our top picks for rides and attractions that will get you smiling…and thinking!


The Seas with Nemo (EPCOT)

This slow-moving ride through the seas in search of Nemo is a great piece to address the importance of teamwork to your organization. While each member is presumably accountable to an overall goal or objective, Finding Nemo reminds us all that teamwork means being accountable to one another as well. Dedication to a common goal, while also valuing the individuals that make that goal reality, is an essential ingredient to group success.

The diverse nature of the Wallaby Way gang demonstrates just how many different types of people you need for a team to be successful. Gil’s sage wisdom was appreciated, as you should for the elder statespeople of your organization. At the same time, the bravery and excitement of your newer members shouldn’t be discounted. Both perspectives are valuable, and can carry you out to open water and new adventures if you let them.

As you ride, consider this: how well do you know the makeup of your team? Who’s been there the longest? What experience are they bringing to the table, and are you taking the most advantage of it? What goals do you have for yourselves for the year ahead, and how can you use each individual’s skills and abilities to get there?


Captain EO (EPCOT)

Captain E.O. was one of the most vivid memories I have of my first trip to Walt Disney World back in 1991. Michael Jackson was a hot property at the time, and the park thrived from his presence and contribution. However, as years went on, his star faded and the demand for his material did as well. Captain E.O. was shuttered in 1997 to make room for Honey, We Shrunk the Audience, a different interactive experience.

However, something happened after the untimely death of Michael Jackson in 2009- the market changed, and the demand for an experience featuring the artist was renewed. Disney responded by reopening the ride in 2010, and it has been able to captivate a new generation with the same songs and characters as it did in the late eighties.

There’s a lesson for you and your board or organization, too. Think about initiatives that have fallen by the wayside, ones that people have been reluctant to bring back or reconsider. “That’s old,” you might hear, or “That didn’t work last time we tried it.” But the game may have changed since your last attempt. We’d encourage you to be open to the idea of a return for the initiative that may seem past its prime.

As you ride, consider this: what programs or initiatives have fallen out of favor at your institution? Is there space for them to be revived? What would be needed to make the “upgraded” versions work?


Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)

This exhibit, one of Disney World’s oldest, first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was created to thrive in a space that revered creativity, innovation, and progress, and was given the opportunity to continue to do so when Disney World opened a few years later.

The ride takes place in a circular theater, moving through time and demonstrating how progressively newer technologies changed the lives of average families, while still reinforcing common values of love, togetherness, and stability. And even though the ride’s “future” probably fell somewhere in our mid 1980s, the lessons it teaches are still relevant today- while technology seems ever-present, it is really only a tool to help make common things we do easier.

As you ride, consider this: Are there areas that you’re seeing a need for progress? What sorts of solutions are you generating? What new problems could those progressive solutions pose, and are there ways to troubleshoot those concerns?



Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

Space Mountain has always been one of my favorite rides at Disney, but it became all the more interesting to me as a leader a few years back, after a significant renovation to their queue. With its considerable popularity, enjoyment of Space Mountain is nearly always preceded by a looooong line. I mean, long. And up until a few years ago, the only source of entertainment you had in said line, was listening to other people not enjoy it. The remodel inserted games, contests, and conversation points along the way, improving the rider experience.

There are always points like this on our campuses and in our organizations. What can you do with the resources at your disposal to make the in-between moments (like in line before, or when leaving an event after) the most enjoyable and effective? Too many people undervalue these moments, assuming that they’re bound to be unenjoyable. But Disney doesn’t believe that- neither should you.

As you ride, consider this: at what points do your events or initiatives have “dead air”? What activities are popular on your campus that can fill these spaces? What opportunities can be found in these moments to inform, entertain, or educate?


Any and all of the dining facilities

As someone with food allergies and sensitivities, I struggle to eat most places. While I completely recognize the complications that can come from trying to accommodate everyone (and generally prepare to feed myself otherwise), I was floored to realize the care and consideration that Disney takes when ensuring park patrons can eat around the park. If you identify that you have a food allergy, you aren’t just referred to another menu- you’re referred to an establishment manager, who shows you the ingredients for the products, helps you make your selection, and personally delivers your food to you.

This can make a HUGE difference to someone who expected to not be able to eat, or to have a limited array of choices. I’ve been able to eat pasta in “Italy,” and have my own bread before the meal- something that no other restaurant has ever been able to give me. I nearly cried!

As you dine, consider this: How can you be considerate of what seem like small touches to you, but make huge differences to those you work with? Ask questions. Assess needs (a few of these offbeat examples can help!). Work with collaborators to see how these concerns can be addressed.

We can’t wait to see all you’ll learn at the conference, and are especially excited to see what you do with your “retreat day” at Walt Disney World. What other lessons can you find at the parks? Let us know, we’d love to showcase them!

3 Offbeat Ways for Students to Assess Programs

So many of us shy away from assessing programs because we imagine the way it’s always done- a survey where you circle numbers, or check boxes, and give a lot of information with little return on our time investment. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! When you make it easy for people to share their thoughts and feedback, you will find that their answers are more robust and helpful. Here, I’ll share a few ideas for how you might do that:


Force people to take a side, and you’ll likely get some strong opinions. Coke or Pepsi. Beyonce or Rihanna. One Direction or 5SOS. The options and forced choices go on and on. How can you operationalize that natural willingness to chime in? At the end of an event, class, or initiative, prompt your participants to share a takeaway or suggestion…and then place it in a bowl or jar. From there, you have the feedback you need…and the overall opinion of the group on some of life’s biggest questions.



How did this workshop go, on a scale of terrible to awesome? Yes, you can send an email afterward and hope to capture the thoughts they left in the room, or flip through lots of survey sheets. Or, you can get a great visual representation of the room’s take on a topic. As a bonus, encourage participants to share a critique or bit of feedback, regardless of placement on the graph, to provide additional insight.

IMAGE CREDIT: Scholastic


We’ve all been there: someone asked us a question, and the words to answer it just didn’t come. But one way to get around this loss for words- provide them! At the close of an event, set up a “photo booth” or encourage selfies be posted to a hashtag. Place out the green (adjective) cards and request participants take a photo while holding the card that answers the question. As an example: “choose one word to describe your experience at this event,” or “choose a word to describe your experience signing up for this event.”


Any or all of these three methods could serve as a fun way to find out what people think about your work, while making it fun for them to volunteer the important information that could help you improve. What other methods have you used to get feedback on your events or initiatives?