Monday, June 13, 2016

Learning to LEAD


by Nathan Miller
2014 MVS scholar and rising junior at the University of Notre Dame
Close your eyes. Let me paint you a mental picture… Oh wait, you’re reading; never mind, don’t close your eyes!! But, imagine this–a place where you’re surrounded by inspiring people, delicious food, constant smiles, unending laughter, and the energetic ambiance of downtown Chicago. And if that wasn’t enough, to top it all off, people are trying to give you money for college!

Welcome to the Elks Leadership Weekend!


Now in its third year, the Leadership Weekend brings together the top 20 National Finalists for the Most Valuable Student Contest. In 2014, I took part in the inaugural Weekend. Since then, I have returned from my humble abode at Notre Dame to serve as an Elks Scholar Leader the past two years. I get to share my own college experiences to help the new scholars prepare for the transition and have a lot of fun throughout the weekend making friendships and memories.

Through all three Leadership Weekends, I’ve not only been blown away by the achievements and character of my fellow Elks scholars (I have friends who have started their own non-profits AND know how to bring a smile to my face), but I’ve also been given a wealth of perspectives on leadership. This past Leadership Weekend made explicit many of the implicit lessons I’ve learned through the Elks that have made me the person I am today.

Leadership is not a one size fits all concept. It is not a secret gift bestowed only to a select few. Leadership is the opportunity for each person to leverage their talents to help others. It is fun and challenging and full of adventure. But, like everything else in life, we are never done learning how to live it.


Here’s what I’ve learned so far about Leadership from my three Leadership Weekends



2014–We’re In This Together

Coming into my first Leadership Weekend, I knew nothing about the Elks and even less about the other 19 scholars. Yet, before we even had time to blink, we were all best friends falling in love with an organization that was about so much more than scholarship money. These photos are from only a few hours after meeting each other.


The power of the circle. Leadership starts by recognizing you’re part of a big, boisterous, loving circle. In the Elks, we all share a passion for service and dedication to making dreams for a better world into reality. To practice leadership, one of the first steps is to cloth yourself in humility and take joy in the fact that changing the world is a team effort.    


Be the stepping stone. As part of a team, sometimes leadership means laying the foundation for others to finish the job. A leader is a visionary who sees how the efforts of today will lead to the successes of tomorrow. Maybe I took this lesson a little too seriously though…
2015–Make Every Moment Exceptional

On the other end of the experience, as a mentor, I was able to more clearly see the Leadership Weekend as an opportunity to live life exceptionally. Exceptional doesn’t mean over the top or dramatic, but rather recognizing the value of every encounter, every experience for the unique time of your life it is. In other words, “suck out all the marrow of life” (shoutout to the DPS fans)!

Recognize the efforts of others. Leaders know how to take the spotlight off themselves and empower people around them. Each year our group serves at the V.A. hospital, and in 2015 I had the honor to present a donation on behalf of the Elks to support their vital services. A life exceptionally lived is a life that celebrates others.
Carpe Diem. Confession: I know nothing about dancing. But, that doesn’t stop me from having the time of my life on the closing dinner cruise! The way I see it, leadership is like this cruise – if you don’t take yourself lightly and “carpe diem,” then you deprive yourself (and all the spectators) of the exquisite balance between work and play.



2016–You Are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

I must give credit to my dad for this expression. This year, I realized just how true it is. When you’re surrounded by 20 high-achieving scholars, it’s easy to feel lost in the mix or undeserving. But, that’s when you need to remember that you’re blessed with unique perspectives and experiences that only you can share with the world. The world needs different leaders with different strengths. Your Elks family will help you thrive.

Take time to affirm yourself. When being a leader gets hard and the goal seems out of reach, we must remember the goodness that others see in us. Humility and confidence should never be mutually exclusive.
Selfies in elevators are a requirement…you’d be amazed how they bring people together, just trust me on this one.


We’ll always be students of life’s classroom. The world is at our fingertips and in desperate need of genuine, compassionate leaders. As Elks scholars, I have the utmost faith in all of you to make a lasting differencethree Leadership Weekends have been more than enough to convince me of that! For a recap of the 2016 Leadership Weekend, watch LEAD.