Our first alumni spotlight for January 2020 is none other than Nicole Meadows, a graduate of South Forsyth High School (2007) and of the University of Georgia (2010). She is a Program Manager for 21st Century Leaders where she has been involved for the last 15 years- almost half of her life! Nicole provides leadership for the Summer Leadership Institutes and school-year summits, at the same time providing support to other programs, and she is a Certified Professional Coach. She says the greatest preparation I received from 21CL is exposure to working with other people – people who end up teaching me something!

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

As the Program Manager for 21st Century Leaders, I have the honor of organizing leadership learning experiences, such as our summer leadership institutes and summits throughout the school year, for Georgia’s high school students.

I graduated from South Forsyth High School (2007) and the University of Georgia (2010) with a major in Journalism (Magazine) and a minor in Comparative Literature. In 2016, I became a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

I’ve been involved with 21st Century Leaders for 15 years. That’s almost half of my life! Not only has participating in 21CL led me to this job, but it has continued to transform me through the people involved, from students to volunteers to coworkers to program partners. Overall, my greatest transformation through 21CL has been in my mindset of pairing work with positive impact.

And how did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. What skills/tools/perspectives have helped you along the way?

The greatest preparation I received from 21CL is exposure to working with other people – people who end up teaching me something! No team dynamic is the same, and as people themselves transform as individuals what they bring to the table (and remove from the table), it changes the experience. Knowing about communication styles, personal values and motivations, and the value of diversity prepared me for any environment. I had roles facilitating small groups, leading mission trips, coaching people into their own goals (not mine), supporting the work of other leaders, and in people-facing workplaces. In all of them, it was the 21CL value of respecting others, actively listening, and considering the other person’s experience that gave me a foundation of connecting and allowing others to discover their potential through taking action.

Nicole at the winter summit in 2006

Which programs did you participate in, and when? What skills did you gain or improve through those programs?

2005 – Summer Leadership Institute at Savannah State University

2006 – Summer leadership institute at Oglethorpe University and Leadership Unplugged: A CNN Experience (the inaugural summer program sponsored by WarnerMedia)

2005 – 2007 – school year summits

2008 – 2012 – summer staff member

2016 – present – full-time team member!

If compassion is a skill, then 21CL’s programs consistently build upon that ability in me, especially through the forced discomfort of working with strangers. Through time as a participant, then as a facilitator, now as a coordinator, compassion (and the 3 C’s as a group) is a leadership trend that I have carried with me. It’s also wonderful to hear from professionals about their work ethic, pathway to success (and valued failures), and their commitment to giving back or paying it forward.

What was a memorable or ‘aha’ moment in 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peers, speaking in public for the first time, etc.?)

Meeting 21st Century Leaders, it was such a relief to hear that there’s not just one type of leader. What a revelation! Other than that, it’s a collection of moments – a collage of workshop debriefs, reflections, witnessing personal breakthroughs, working alongside former students who are now alumni, cleaning up rivers and other service projects that show that leadership is alive in everyday experiences. For practical takeaways, I will always strive to make my handshakes “webby to webby” and realize that diversity encompasses more than outward appearances.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

21CL has definitely helped me to develop my leadership style. It’s a given that spending time with something results in a transfer between. The time I’ve been able to spend with other leaders has imparted a treasure trove of skills, mindsets, perspectives, and ways of doing things, relationship with failure, and more. I have found that I tend to lean more towards a facilitative leadership style– creating an environment in which others can lead, with expectations that the opportunity to lead is open. From the “Leadership Challenge” I see how “modeling the way” and “encouraging the heart” have infused my way of training – showing how, working through it together, encouraging others and acknowledging their unique value. I’m always learning about leadership and am grateful for the leaders and cultures of leadership that have made a mark on me. 21CL gave me permission to be the kind of leader that I am and can become, and gives that same permission to any student who participates.