VLA: a Look Back and a Look Forward

April 4th, 2019
Filed Under: Guest Post | Sisterhood

by Pam Zimmerman, Epsilon Tau – Middle Tennessee State University

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to participate in Alpha Delta Pi’s first ever Volunteer Leadership Academy (VLA), joining sisters from the new Central and Southern Districts in my role as a Trustee of the Alpha Delta Pi Foundation which provided partial funding for this new program focused on team building for International Officers and Advisors.

This support directly relates to the Foundation’s mission of providing resources to the sorority’s educational, leadership, and philanthropic activities which improve the lives of women and the communities they serve.   

As I reflect back on my experience at VLA, I took a moment to break down the different components in the title of this new undertaking:

Volunteer: a person who voluntarily (from one’s own choice or consent) undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service

Leadership: the action of leading a group of people or an organization

Academy: a place of study or training in a special field

I’d say these definitions accurately reflect the experiences of attendees during a weekend packed with a mix of instruction and interactive small group activities. 

As a former Grand Council member, I not only enjoyed reconnecting with sisters I had not seen in a while and connecting with sisters that I had not previously met, but welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the revised organizational volunteer and staff structure and how these changes align with our organization’s strategic plan. 

We all struggle with change . . . and there are many changes occurring within our organization. In their beautifully illustrated book The Nature of Leadership (given to me by former Grand Council members and friends Pat Johnson Evans and Tracy Garner, now Alpha Delta Pi Foundation President, at the end of my term on Grand Council), Stephen Covey and Roger Merrill guide readers to find answers to leadership challenges and opportunities:  “Nature teaches that change is a vital part of life. Seeds change. Seasons change. Weather changes. People Change. We are part of a dynamic, growing, ever-changing environment. Through change, we create better organizations, more productive teams, more harmonious families, better selves . . . Creating positive change is what leadership is all about.”

During VLA, a group of experienced and dedicated facilitators led sessions on Self, Relationships, Vision, and Action, all contributing to defining expectations for volunteers while developing the skills necessary to accomplish those tasks in their ADPi roles . . .  as well as to be utilized in their personal and professional lives.

I was struck by a quote from John Maxwell included in the VLA Playbook: “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts – it is about one life influencing another” . . . is this another way of saying “We Live for Each Other?” And, of course, we can’t forget what may well be ADPi’s most famous leadership quote, contained in our Creed written by Caralee Strock Stanard: “I believe . . . that leadership requires confidence tempered with humility and courage blended with tolerance.” 

Not long after I returned home from VLA, I read an article in The Nashville Business Journal by Joe Scarlett, retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company, entitled “Trust is the Foundation of Leadership.” Mr. Scarlett shared the following, which I believe directly relates to the lessons from VLA:

. . . a culture of trust . . . often translates to a better peer-to-peer working environment . . . . In fact, trust among a team can mean the difference between a successful leader and one who struggles along but always wonders why.  Here are a few ways to start nurturing the best possible atmosphere:  Be honest and transparent in all dealings. Commit to being a no-secrets leader.  Share your plans with your team.  Keep operating standards consistent.  Become a listening expert.  Recognize every success . . . Recognition is the No. 1 motivator.

The VLA Playbook references six ways to motivate: Recognition, Rewards, Involvement, Interests, Self-satisfaction, and Friendships. I was first introduced to what has become one of my personal favorite quotes on motivation by Maureen Mulvaney, Epsilon Kappa – Troy State University (now Troy University), former Traveling Collegiate Secretary (now Leadership Consultant), motivational speaker and author: “You can’t motivate others, but you can create an environment in which others can motivate themselves.” (Paraphrased) VLA certainly took steps toward creating such an environment!  

As a lifelong learner, I identified two takeaways (among many others!) from VLA . . . The impact of Extreme Question communication (check out the video) and a new word for my vocabulary: “voluntold.” Imagine my surprise when I later found definitions in several dictionaries, including this one from the Urban Dictionary:  “forcibly volunteered.  A task that was once voluntary has now been ordered to you.” Well, who doesn’t need a little nudge . . . or encouragement . . . now and then to step up? While I had never heard this word before, I realized that I had been “voluntold” on several occasions . . . and, in fact, had “voluntold” others!

Being a lifelong resident of Tennessee, the Volunteer State, I grew up in a “volunteer” culture. While there remains some debate as to how Tennessee got this nickname (alternatively associated with residents’ willingness to volunteer for military service in either the War of 1812 or the later Mexican-American War), there is apparently no debate on the effect volunteering can have on our lives. Studies have shown that volunteers live longer, healthier, and happier lives, especially when the reasons for volunteering are “other-focused” . . . volunteering out of a genuine concern for something beyond oneself. (Excerpt from The Giving Way to Happiness by Jenny Santi; TarcherPerigee, 2016)

Given this information and my experience at VLA, I’m convinced that together Alpha Delta Pi, the Alpha Delta Pi Foundation, and our volunteers will continue to live, not just First and Finest . . . but FOREVER!


  1. Emily Erkel says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective as a lifelong learner, Foundation Trustee, and former Council member. It was wonderful to experience the learning of VLA with you and through your experience.

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