The Emotionally Intelligent Leader – Teen Leadership Program: A mid-year review by Ben Deignan


As we reach the end of an unquestionably difficult year, it’s a positive thing to be able to say that the first Teen Leadership cohort is reaching the program’s midpoint. While no one could’ve predicted that 2020 might not be the ideal year to launch a brand-new program, perhaps the timing is actually somewhat serendipitous for a program such as this one to come into existence.

As we’ve witnessed, factors invisible to the naked eye can bring life to a screeching halt on the local and global scale.

In these moments, we depend on our appointed leaders to make swift and responsible decisions that will certainly affect us, our loved ones, and those within our communities. We also look to the people we see as leaders in our personal lives to guide us through times of uncertainty as well.

The 32 teens that makeup Pebble Tossers’ inaugural Teen Leadership Program are cultivating emotional intelligence at a time in history where the negative impacts of leadership, in the absence of emotional intelligence, are felt almost immediately and prove more costly to society than life as usual.

Now, more than ever, and in real-time, we can witness the fallout that results from global leaders who lack the self-awareness to question their own motives, the social awareness to practice human decency, the self-management skills to inspire discipline, and the relationship skills to establish and maintain trust.

These are the tenets of social-emotional learning (SEL) and the foundation upon which the Teen Leadership Program is built. These concepts fuel the TLP mission to Serve, Lead, Succeed.

Now, as we stand at the halfway mark and can see where we’re headed, it’s good to reflect on where we’ve been…

Sunday, August 23rd, the program officially launched. Woodruff Arts Center Director of Recruitment & Employee Engagement and motivational speaker Alex Desiderio kicked things off with a Volunteer 101 presentation.

“It’s about establishing a personal presence.” -Alex Desiderio
On leadership and service project planning

For our second meeting we had the great honor of welcoming Licensed Therapist and University of Southern Mississippi associate professor, Dr. Leslie Anderson. Dr. Anderson put the students in the frame of mind where they were encouraged to interrogate their true motivations behind their acts of service.

“Service is more than “helping the needy” or attempting to capture an Instagramable selfie. It’s about being able to see yourself in the eyes of those you seek to serve.” -Dr. Leslie Anderson
On motivations behind volunteering for community service projects

We were then joined by retired NFL player (New England Patriots: UGA Football), author and founder of Share the Magic Foundation, Ind. Malcolm Mitchell, for our October meeting. Mitchell shared with us the degree to which reading has impacted his life and how education has informed the leader he’s become now, off the field, as an author and entrepreneur.

“Reading unlocks potential. It’s as simple as that. I promise you that if you read every single day, you will grow; it’s impossible not to.” -Malcolm Mitchell
On the powerful benefits of reading

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, we welcomed Bank of America Community Relations Manager and service project veteran Cherie Wilson. Growing up, while other kids were playing sports, Cherie volunteered her time and effort to help her community. Her passion for community service lasted through college, her professional life, and even to this day. Cherie’s presentation may have been the most relevant to the Pebble Tossers’ cause as a whole and comes at a perfect time as the teens enter the program’s service project phase.

“You have to learn how to tell your story. If you want to inspire others to get behind your cause, sell them on the narrative that inspired you to get behind this cause.” -Cherie Wilson
On using your personal “secret weapon” and “super powers” as a guide for service and career paths.

The caliber of speakers willing to share their wisdom with us is certainly felt within the program, even in the virtual format.

“I love all of the different speakers. I feel like I’ve learned so much already, and we haven’t even been together in person. It’s really amazing.”
-Gracie Rosenberg

“The program and the speakers have definitely challenged my mind to think about things that I wouldn’t normally think about.”
-Ainsley McCaa

Now that the teens have put their heads together and decided on three service projects, they’re in the process of dividing themselves into groups based on where they think their interests and talents will be the most useful. This is really the reason many of them joined the program in the first place.

“I know for me I just wanted to get to know new people and get to find new service opportunities, and just grow my leadership skills as a whole, and this seemed like a really great way to do it.”
-Gracie Rosenberg

“I really want to find like-minded people who want to address issues within the community and improve my leadership skills.”
-Alex Farquharson

Ultimately, this group of young adults have an altruistic fire that burns within them. No one is forcing them to be in a leadership program; they all found their way here by their own means. What they’re learning through the curriculum, they already possess; but the time they spend together working on their own service projects will further uncover and strengthen these leadership skills.

“This program is a wonderful training ground for young, compassionate, and brilliant leaders. As an advisor, I am thrilled to see the creativity and drive in the young hearts & minds. Our current project is focused on planting trees in the memory of those who passed away due to COVID. Besides the raw power of the central theme, the team came up with great ideas – like a type of flora specific to the local region with flower colors symbolizing hope.  

Outcome driven meetings wonderfully curated guest speakers and reflection writing – Jen & Ben have made this program a powerful part of kids’ leadership toolkit.  Thank you, Pebble Tossers!”

-Anand Sathiyamurthy, Teen Leadership Program advisor