Lessons from Leadership Day: Learning to lead

By: Dawn Montecalvo

Throughout my 25 years in the nonprofit world, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work with all brands of CEOs, board chairs, business owners, politicians and industry leaders. I’ve even been lucky enough to have some of these talented individuals on our team as volunteers. I’ve learned from each of these leaders by observing and working with them. What I’ve found is that a good leader never stops learning, picking up on insights, advice, knowledge and skills throughout their careers. I know that by absorbing their knowledge, insight and experience, I’ve become a better leader.

Our future executives and entrepreneurs are thirsty for knowledge, too, but most teenagers, especially those from Immokalee, don’t have a handful of CEOs at their disposal. With that need in mind, Guadalupe Center recently assembled a panel of executives and workshop coaches to educate, inspire and enlighten juniors and seniors in our college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program.

Leadership Day, an annual business forum held March 22 at Vineyards Country Club in Naples, was designed to mirror a professional business conference. Students dressed the part, wearing slacks or dress pants, polo or button-down shirts, jackets and dress shoes. After stepping into the clubhouse, they were given a nametag and program agenda – staples of any business conference.

Over four-plus hours, eight Southwest Florida professionals with mountains of leadership experience shared valuable insights with these students as they prepare for the future.

During the executive panel, a trio of local professionals offered a window into corporate leadership and ownership.

Pete Maldonado, CEO of Chomps, which manufactures snack sticks, said he was obsessed with perfection when trying to launch his first company, so much so that he shut down the business before he made any sales. “Knowing what I know now, I would have just gotten the product out there, got feedback and made the tweaks along the way,” he said. “Pivot, do whatever you have to do to make change and you’ll be successful. The biggest thing is just getting started.”

Michael Koroghlian, franchise owner of multiple Dunkin’ locations across Southwest Florida, noted that success brings additional responsibilities, which includes providing jobs that feed hundreds of employees and their family members: “It’s a big responsibility, which I didn’t really think about when I was younger. I was just worried about climbing to the top. I never thought about getting to the top and what that would mean. Every day I’m learning, I’m striving and I’m trying to stay motivated.”

Olga DeCaprio, owner of Pure Barre Naples, Club Pilates North Naples and Club Pilates South Naples, said she has learned that empowering employees makes a company stronger: “If you give them the power, that’s the game changer. Give them the power to be proactive, to make decisions and to make mistakes, too, because they are going to feel like they’re part of this company.”

Dr. Kristen Dimas, program director for the family medicine residency program at Healthcare Network, delivered a keynote address that featured a “you can do it” theme. If anyone knows that possibilities truly are endless, it’s Dimas. She is among six Guadalupe Center Tutor Corps alumni who have become doctors. “This path wasn’t easy. More than once, I thought about quitting, but every time I did, I thought about you,” Dimas said. “I thought about the students who one day would be able to look at me and say, ‘If she did it, then so can I. If this one small girl can make all of her dreams come true, then so can I.’”

Leadership Day concluded with a set of four skills workshops meant to broaden students’ horizons, learn soft skills to advance in the workplace and take them out of their comfort zone:

Joe Scondotto, external affairs market manager for Comerica Bank, led a budgeting workshop focused on personal spending and priorities.

Barbara Melvin, financial consultant with BMR-Melvin Consulting, discussed the process of identifying goals and creating a plan to reach them during a goal-setting workshop.

Tracy Duhaney, business strategist with The Amboseli Group, presented a public speaking workshop to help students overcome fears and create a focused message.

Iwona Wilson, strategic business partner for Wilson.biz Consulting, demonstrated the value of small talk and socializing during a networking skills workshop.

Decades into our professional careers, many of us finally feel comfortable in leadership roles thanks to years of on-the-job training. Thanks to a cohort of business leaders committed to paying it forward, Leadership Day provided before-the- job training, giving our Tutor Corps students a valuable leg up as they prepare for college and beyond.

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