June 4, 2023

RISE above

Business leaders know that growing a company requires you to put yourself out there and stay ahead of trends. One good way to accomplish both is by attending industry events throughout the year.

Conferences can help you develop valuable new relationships, build influence in your space through speaking and thought leadership content, and even challenge you to think differently and push yourself to grow as a leader. Whether you’re likings are industry-focused events, like marketing conferences, or more big-picture events on topics like leadership, the right event can make a big difference.

On Saturday, October 20th, the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) hosted the fall semester’s RISE Leadership Conference at NCC. The all-day event started with a light breakfast, opening remarks, and keynote speaker, Joann Lee.

Lee, an NCC Alumni whose extensive resume also includes 26 years with Weichert Realtors for the Commonwealth of PA, started out as a front desk receptionist and climbed the ranks to become a regional training director. Lee was instrumental in the creation of numerous marketing materials implemented throughout the company.

Lee has been an executive assistant and director to the president of ArtsQuest for the past seven years.

“I was born into a family with two older sisters and a father who thought we should all be sons, so our chores were different than that of our friends. I had to mix cement in a wheelbarrow and lay brick, because that’s just how it was in our house,” Lee said “but I soon realized these jobs were not ones I wanted to do so I started my own career journey.”

Prior to being a successful realtor and important member of ArtsQuest, Lee’s career path also includes jobs such as shoe store salesperson, house painter, a grocery store produce worker, a banquet waitress, and a manuscript typist.

“Every job and every chore offers an opportunity to build your leadership skills and determine where you want to go,” Lee explained.

According to Lee, leadership skills include:

Being self-aware. Determine your intentions and values.

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Every person you interact with has something to prove and has a worth to share.

Accept, adjust, and reevaluate your goals as you continue to move forward. 

Manage your strengths, let go of your weaknesses.

Give away the credit and take the blame.

Realizing success can’t be obtained without trying.

If someone tells you no, then you’re onto something.

“What makes a great leader is having the ability to create, share, and articulate a vision. They may not know all the tiny aspects of reaching the end result. They just need to know how to share a passion, build the right team, and to know the direction to take to make that idea become a reality,”Lee said.

When she worked as a realtor, it was at a time before fast machines, cell phones, and the Internet. It seemed that overnight these advances in technology appeared.

Since people can go online and find a home without a mortgage broker, what is a realtor to do when it seems as if no one needs their services?

“All of these things lead to an opportunity to shake it up and find a new way to work around those obstacles,” Lee replied.

She encourages future leaders not to challenge the process, but to find new ways to enhance it by turning obstacles into stepping stones. That insight helped a lot of realtors advance in their careers. No longer were realtors stuck drawing up a contract on a typewriter with typos and white out.

Advances in technology allowed them to show more and more houses by doing contracts online and sending them out while simultaneously closing on another property.

Another example of economic leadership occurred during the decline in the steel industry. When once-lucrative companies like Bethlehem Steel went under, the loss left 20% of its tax base without jobs.

Was Bethlehem going to be one of those cities that failed when their largest industry failed or were there leaders who would shake it up?

As it turns out, there were leaders willing to shake it up and in 1983, the vision of Musikfest was born.

“Someone had the idea, but they didn’t know how to implement it, so they brought in a team who could program artistic panels, meet with sponsors and community leaders, and maintain all the financial aspects. To know where your weaknesses are and bring in people with a better understanding to turn them into strengths is what makes a successful leader,” said Lee.

The first Musikfest in 1984 had 300 volunteers working around the clock, 250 performances on six stages, and brought in 182,000 people to Bethlehem, revitalizing its economy.

This past August, Musikfest celebrated its 35th year. The annual fest had over 1700 volunteers, 550 life performances on 16 stages, and over one million people from 45 states and six countries.

Musikfest was also hit with a flood, resulting in the closure of three “platzes”. Many thought they would have to close for four days. Instead, they were only closed for a day and a half.

Between the staff, volunteers, Emergency Management System, and the city of Bethlehem, the cleanup was fast. They had people with rubber boots and plastic bags over their clothes. It was muddy and unsanitary.

Lee’s job was to sit in her air-conditioned office and upload photos, emergency management documents, weather reports, health reports, and financial losses to their insurance company. She didn’t feel like part of the team until someone reminded her that her job mattered too. Everyone had a role.

“Remember that you may not always be in a group setting, but your job is just as important, whether you’re in the group or in your office alone,” said Lee.

Lee ended her presentation saying “I encourage you to fail often and fail quickly. Don’t be afraid of it because the quicker you fail, the faster your success will come. If an inventor gave up on their idea just because it didn’t work the first time around. where would we be? To reach success you just have to succeed one time more than you fail.”

After Lee’s presentation, the conference branched out into ‘Breakout Sessions’ where attendees could choose shorter lectures that fit their own career journey. Choices included: ‘Hardwiring Happiness,’ ‘Saving a Doomed Ship: Taking Responsibility for the Majority,’ ‘Effectively Communicating Leadership Experience in Your Job Search,’ ‘Building a Successful Team,’ ‘Finding Your Inner Balance: How Mental Health Effects Your Leadership,’ ‘Authentic Leadership: Staying True to You,’ and ‘Discovering the Leader Within You: A Strength Approach.

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