Learning to Lead

February 15 2006

Connia Nelson and Joyce Rogers know what it takes to succeed in the business world.

The two Indiana State University alumnae recently joined other African-American leaders in sharing some of their knowledge with more than 140 students who gathered at ISU to learn how to develop their leadership skills.

"Growing your leadership skills no matter what age you are, no matter what role you're in, no matter what position you hold is absolutely essential. It is critical for people to lead at all levels and at all ages," said Nelson, a 1977 graduate of ISU's College of Business.

While reflecting on the qualities that make a good leader, Nelson came up with the acronym ACE to summarize what she would like to see in employees.

"You won't find it in any book," Nelson said, "It just came to mind that I want them to ACE things. I want them to be an ace player. For me, here's what that stands for -- A stands for aggressive, being ambitious, and being accountable. The C stands for being credible, being collaborative, and being competitive, and the E is for having energy, being able to energize others, and excelling, excelling beyond the limits.

Nelson joined GTE, now known as Verizon, upon graduation from ISU. Following a management trainee position, she has had a myriad of jobs and experiences. She currently serves as vice president for Human Resources in Verizon's New York office.

"When it's a company that's as large as Verizon, you get a chance to do just a lot of different jobs and be involved in many things that you would never imagine that you would have a chance to do," the Lawrenceburg, Ind. native, said.

"Not only have I developed curriculum, I've had a chance to participate in mergers and acquisitions. At one point, we did a small start-up business, and I had a chance to be the HR lead on that, and develop that business. There was another business that we decided to exit, so I had a chance to see what it means to dismantle a business," she said.

As a student, Nelson developed her leadership skills as a resident of Mills Hall and as a member of the Ebony Majestic Choir.

"At that time, the choir was student-run, and I was one of the directors of the choir. We did a lot of traveling, we did a lot of rehearsing, and it was also a time where we got to know each other as we participated in music," Nelson said.

Nelson and Rogers, head of an organization that pumps $70 million into the Indianapolis economy, firmly believe in the importance of mentoring.

Nelson has developed a program to mentor large numbers of Verizon employees and community members.

"I try to focus on mentoring circles, where I can bring a group of people together and we can talk about issues and concerns, the latest trends in leadership or business and new industry events. It's an opportunity for them to learn from somebody like myself who is a seasoned leader in the organization, but also to learn from each other. It creates a network for employees to participate in, and it allows me to cover more people than I would have been able to otherwise."

"Mentors help you strengthen your strengths and overcome your weaknesses," Rogers said. She currently mentors three or four people and believes that mentoring is an important way to give back to society.

Once students get into their careers, Rogers urged them to decide what role they wanted to play.

I think you need to distinguish between being a manager and being a leader. They're very different. Manage means that you're focused on task. Being a leader means you are working with people to gain consensus and move them in a particular direction based upon that consensus building skill.

Rogers, the first female president and CEO of Indiana Black Expo, has some advice to those who see her as a role model.

"Be yourself. Figure out what your strengths are and the path that you want to take to grow those strengths," she said.

Education is the most important tool students can have in today's business world.

"Today's economy is based on knowledge. You must have a good education. Get you degree and don't give up," she said. "That degree shows you have the ability to learn and grow."

Rogers, a 1979 ISU graduate with a bachelor's degree in social work, learned important lessons in time management, leadership and having balance in her life as a student.

"I was a single parent when I was at Indiana State, so it was very important for me to have good time management skills because I wanted to get my degree. I went home and worked in our family business on the weekends. I worked in the psychology department during the week, and at one point, I was working the graveyard shift at Big Wheel," she said.

Rogers didn't have the opportunity to participate in as many activities as she would have liked. She chose one organization to be involved in, and that was Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, where she served as secretary, assistant treasurer and on several committees.

"Indiana State University gave me the chance to blossom and succeed, and I'll always be grateful for that," Rogers said.

Dianna Thompson, a senior communications studies major from Indianapolis who served on the conference committee, said working behind the scenes to ensure the conference's success was a valuable hands-on learning opportunity.

"I learned that you have to be really strong and really motivated in what you do. I learned that deep down, I'm truly a leader. I think that I learned a little bit more about myself, and some things that I need to work on, and then those things that I have strengths in," she said.

Rodney Freeman, an ISU graduate student from Chicago, served on the conference committee, to learn leadership from one of ISU's African-American leaders.

"It gave me a chance to serve with Charlie Brown, a black leader on this campus, and learn from the leadership that he's been providing ISU for all these years," Freeman said.

Like Thompson, Freeman learned more about himself by organizing and attending the conference.

"I think it's taught me that I still have some more things to do, some more room to grow -- maybe I need to become a better speaker, or a more effective manager. But it let me know that I do already have certain things, certain qualities in place," he said.

Conference organizers hope to build on the success of this year's program.

LaNeeca Williams, assistant director of diversity and affirmative action, said the conference offered valuable tools to students.

"I hope students left with networking alliances with other African-American professionals across the state, and resources that will help them develop their leadership skills," she said.

"We want our African-American students at Indiana State to have the best possible experience, that means creating opportunities for them on campus, as well as then to invite other students to come in from other campuses to experience that with them, so that they grow, not only amongst themselves, but in relationships with other students," said Charlie Potts, assistant vice president for student affairs.

"This is not just a one time thing. We're going to let it grow and develop into a tradition," he added.

Contact: Charlie Potts, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, 812.237.8046 or sunpotts@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, 812.237.3783 or devmeyer@isugw.indstate.edu


Bookmark and Share

Story Highlights

Two ISU alumnae share their knowledge with more than 140 students gathered at ISU

Bookmark and Share