Keynote speaker Jessica Stollings-Holder led attendees at Middle Tennessee State University’s recent Leadership Summit through an engaging presentation about collaboration and teamwork that boiled down to one key factor: “We all need each other.”
Hosted by the Jennings A. Jones College of Business, this year’s event drew 325 attendees to Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro for the luncheon presentation by Stollings-Holder, a national speaker, trainer, author and coach from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who helps teams recognize how their diverse perspectives fuel success.
Her talk, “See Differences Differently: How to Bring Together Different Points of View” touched on areas such as generational diversity and bias and sought to move attendees to a place where “we would be challenged, where we would be curious before being critical when we encounter someone with maybe a different background or perspective,” she said.
In one interactive exercise, Stollings-Holder had attendees pair up, preferably with someone they didn’t know, and take two minutes each to share about their backgrounds, encouraging each person to really listen.
Listening “is one of the greatest competencies that we should have as leaders,” she said, and that doing so brings the realization that “differences are cool and fun and interesting.”
“We live very busy, fast-paced lives. In the middle of it, I want to encourage you, let’s not forget to remember. The moments, the memories, the people who have helped shape who you are,” she said. “No matter what your story is, your story matters and has tremendous value, and we choose what we carry forward and what we leave behind.”
Alumnus Eli Thompson said more businesses need this sort of training to build a strong workforce and company culture. His biggest takeaway?
“Pause. The need to step back and look at it from a different perspective,” said Thompson, who works for NextGear Capital, which provides financing for automotive dealers. “Take someone else’s knowledge, someone else’s perspective, think about it and look at it through that light and possibly consider that there’s an alternative.”
The University College graduate (Class of 2021) said he returned to MTSU after dropping out when he was younger to take advantage of a full-time job offer. The pandemic’s pause rekindled his desire to finish earning his degree, which was made even more achievable by MTSU Online’s robust course offerings and credits earned for his work experience through the Prior Learning Assessment program.
“I wanted to show my stepdaughter, ‘Look, you need to go finish what you started,” he said.
Stollings-Holder said that bringing together different points of view always has high potential for conflict. To deal with that in a constructive way, she offered a guiding framework of “pause, filter, step back, adapt” and broke down each phase of that framework during her hourlong-plus talk that included practicing breathing exercises, doing “thought audits,” and sharing stories and more than a few laughs.
“It is brave work to ask why we are triggered by certain things,” she said. “… The more you practice what we learn today, the easier it becomes. … You need each other.”
‘Checking your filter’
Stollings-Holder’s presentation featured an interactive session on team chemistry that required those sitting at each table to work together to solve a timed series of games and puzzles located inside an old-school Trapper Keeper that had to be completed to reveal the secret code phrase before the clock ran out. Those who successfully completed the exercise discovered that the secret phrase was “Be team players.”
Nicholas Miller, a junior business administration major and Georgia native, said the presentation highlighted areas that he planned to focus on and improve.
“A big thing for me is communication, just trying to figure out how to relate and to really understand people,” Miller said, “not just to respond to people, but to understand what they’re saying when they speak to me.
“Something that’s really important that I’ve taken from this is to have perspective, making sure that you’re checking your filter … before you interact,” he said.
Jones College Dean Joyce Heames and attorney Aubrey Harwell Jr., holder of the Jennings A. Jones Chair of Excellence in Free Enterprise, kicked off the program by recognizing those alumni honored the previous evening with special college leadership awards.
This year’s recipients were Charles Avent Jr., senior project manager, HCA Healthcare, Young Professional of the Year Award; Jami Averwater, co-founder, owner of Hywater Title, Jones College Exemplar Award; Lisa Nix, certified public accountant, shareholder at LBMC, Joe M. Rodgers Spirit of America Award; and John Cipriano, senior director, Alvarez and Marsal North American Commercial Restructuring in Dallas, Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award. (Click image of recipients at bottom of this story for pdf version of award program.)
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)