Empower Leadership Pods & Blogs2020-11-23T07:36:11-05:00

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There are many different definitions of leadership and theories on what great leadership looks, sounds, and feels like. The Lead with Empower Podcast connects listeners with those who are “in the trenches” leading themselves and others each day in schools, on the field, and in their communities. We will learn about their unique leadership style and identify common traits between tremendous leaders through our guests’ personal stories and insight – inspiring our listeners to unleash their leadership potential at home, school, work, or on the field, and in their community.

Featured Episode

Dr. Jan Jones
Program Coordinator for Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of New Haven
Leads with Empower

Scroll down for show notes

Season II of the Lead with Empower Podcast

Episode #11

Dr. Jan Jones

Leads with Empower

“Nothing comes easy to me. I have to work really hard for it, but I’m willing to put in the time. If you’re willing to put in the time, it does pay off!

Show Notes: Dr. Jones is the Coordinator for Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of New Haven and a great friend of Empower Leadership. Jan brings a wealth of valuable leadership insight to our conversation; applicable to the hospitality and tourism industry and far beyond.

00:00 – Episode opening, Dr. Jones introduction, and challenges faced in the tourism and hospitality industry
  • Jan discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry and shares strategies implemented to mitigate those challenges.
  • “Tourism is a system. When there is a piece of the system that is not working, it affects the whole system.”
11:36 – Jan and I discuss the end of the 2019/2020 academic year, the leadership challenges faced, and the tactics implemented to overcome those challenges; highlighting the importance of being prepared for the unexpected and ready to adapt and adjust to those situations.
  • “We have a tendency to overwhelm people with new stuff. It is important that we focus on what we want the students to walk away with and focus on the very basic things we are comfortable doing to make that happen. Focus on a couple things, do them well, and then build upon that foundation.”
Show Notes Continued:
25:11 – Dr. Jones shares insight into the first semester of the 2020/2021 academic year; focusing on the preparation by the faculty and staff as well as the students wellbeing.
  • “I went from showing up to class, turning on the computer, and immediately engaging with students. Now there is a big checklist to complete before we can do any of that.”
33:28 – Jan shares thoughts on how her students have managed the impact COVID-19 has had on their education. Discussing noticeable changes in their behaviors between the Spring and Fall semesters.
  • Jan highlights the importance of focus on the wellbeing of her students as well as her own personal wellbeing – health always comes first!
  • Jan also shares the importance of adapting and overcoming – “After some of the early Zoom classes, I would turn off the computer and cry – saying this is not what I signed up for. I would feel sorry for myself for about a minute, and then would say, OK, how can I make this better?”
38:55 – Dr. Jones is a Blackbelt in Karate, Red Belt in Taekwondo, and has trained in Muay Thai Boxing!!! Jan discuss the role recreation and exercise have played in her life and also shares some health/wellness initiatives she has been a part of since the onset of the pandemic; including:
60:20 – We learn about Jan’s collegiate and professional journey. Dr. Jones shares how a study abroad trip to Cuba changed her life!
69:55 – Episode Closure – Jan shares:
  • What she hopes her students take away from their experiences in 2020
  • Who her childhood inspirations were and why
  • Her music choice for her runs and workouts
  • What currently inspires and motivates her
  • Her thoughts on who she is as a leader

Episode #10

Jania Pagan, Janaya Merced, Jada Merced, and Kendrick Long

Lead with Empower

“You are truly in control of your future, you just have to be willing to work for it!”

Jania Pagan (Senior, Penn Foster HS), Janaya Merced (Junior, Penn Foster HS), Jada Merced (Freshman, SABIS International Charter School), Kendrick Long (Senior, Springfield Renaissance School), and James Lightfoot (Urban League of Springfield) join the Lead with Empower Podcast. Jania, Janaya, Jada, and Kendrick are all young adults living in Springfield, MA. who participate in youth development programming with James Lightfoot – Director of Youth and Education Programs with the Urban League of Springfield.
 The Urban League of Springfield is a community outreach organization working to empower the African American community in greater-Springfield. James’ work focuses on providing essential resources (i.e. college preparation/awareness and educational equity) to youths and young adults. Jania, Janaya, Jada, and Kendrick are special and unique to James in that they have lofty goals for themselves and have shown an uncommon determination and drive to achieve those goals!

Speaking with Jada, Kendrick, Janaya, and Jania was an absolute inspiration. It is important for all adults to get to know the youths in their communities – they are what our futures hold and they will use their talents to bring people together, strengthen communities, and create a better tomorrow for us all!

00:00: We kick off the episode by asking the students to introduce themselves and share their thoughts on the pending election results
  • “There’s a greater sense of possibility for people who are minorities.”
08:45: James highlights the mission of the Urban League of Springfield and shares why he chose Jada, Janaya, Jania, and Kendrick to be on the Lead with Empower Podcast
  • “These four young adults have set goals for themselves and have demonstrated a level of determination and drive to achieve those goals.”
12:15: Jania, Janaya, Jada, and Kendrick reflect upon the issues of racial injustice and inequality experienced in 2020 and share why they are inspired by the pending election of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
  • “We have always seen racism because we are black. We are not looking at it from outside the box, we are in the box living it. Our work is never done, but we are not going to stop!”
  • “I am a young woman of color and to see a grown woman of color do that lets me know that the possibilities for me are endless!”
28:51: The students discuss some of the challenges (both academic and social) they have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and strategies they have implemented to overcome those challenges
  • “I’m not going to give myself any excuses; I want to learn and I am going to persevere!”
  • “I don’t know how I’m going to make it, but I know I am going to; I won’t let myself give up.”
41:39: Jania, Janaya, Jada, and Kendrick reflect on their experiences in 2020 and the valuable lessons they will take from those experiences
  • “Life experience – I want to do everything I can to make sure that everything we have faced is easier for the next person.”
  • “Never give up, never stop fighting for what you deserve. It will change and I want to be part of the change!”
49:26: The students discuss the importance of recognizing and leveraging support systems and available resources
 53:19: The students describe someone or something in their personal lives that inspires and motivates them to be their best
  • “Everyone I come across inspires me in their own unique way. They are all giving me a flower and I am trying to turn those flowers into a bouquet!”
58:51: Jania, Janaya, Jada, and Kendrick share their goals and dreams and discuss what they need to do to achieve their goals and realize their dreams
  • “You are truly in control of your future, you just have to be willing to work for it!”
67:25: Episode Closure – the students discuss how they can have a positive impact on their community and share wisdom and inspiration for young adults who may be struggling
  • “Any person, no matter their background, experiences, race, sexuality, can make it to the top!”

Episode #9

Tanner Kern

Endurance Athlete and Content Creator

Leads with Empower

“The road to a goal, no matter how big or small, is a process. There will be highs, lows, and experiences of every feeling in between, but you cannot cheat the process towards success.”

To learn more about Tanner and his inspirational journey, visit his Website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Tanner Kern Leads with Empower! Tanner is a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut and is an endurance athlete, inspirational content creator, and freelance writer. During our conversation, you will hear about Tanner’s inspirational journey from 340 pound Division I football player at Lafayette College to 200 pound endurance athlete, as well as the important role leadership has played in Tanner’s life as an athlete, a person struggling with physical and mental health, and much more!

  • 00:00: Opening Segment and Introduction to Tanner Kern
  • 05:40: Tanner dishes on his decision to attend Xavier High School; sharing stories and insight from his 4 years at “The X”. Tanner highlights Coach Sean Marinan as a key leadership inspiration at Xavier.
  • 16:15: We hear about Tanner’s jump to Division I athletics at Lafayette College. Tanner was a “day 1” starter at Center as a 17 year old freshmen!
  • 24:25: Tanner discusses the end of his football career and the his transformation to becoming an endurance athlete. Multiple concussions and severe post concussion symptoms ended Tanner’s football career, leading to struggles with his physical and mental health. Tanner found love in running – not because he loved running, but because of his love for competition!
  • 37:00: Running for a Cause – Tanner shares insight into a 100 mile run (in 35 hours!!!) in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and a run from Canada to Connecticut in support of Foodshare.
  • 46:15: Tanner shares stories about his personal development through endurance running, highlighting the 40 percent rule (David Goggins)
  • 49.25: We learn about Tanner’s website, blog, and podcast – his vehicles to help inspire people to discover their best!
  • 53:25: Closing Segment – Tanner and I wrap up the episode with a few “quick hitters”

Episode #8

Hildie Heck

Athletic Director Lyme Old Lyme Schools

Leads with Empower

“Be flexible – learn how to adapt and create!”

Follow the Hildie and the Lyme Old Lyme Athletics Program on Twitter

Hildie Heck, the Athletic Director for Lyme Old Lyme Schools, joins the Lead with Empower for episode 8 of season 2. Hildie has been in the Athletic Director role for the Wildcats since 2016. Prior to joining the Lyme Old Lyme community, Hildie was a physical education/health instructor and coach at Classical Magnet School in Hartford. Here are the show notes:

  • 02:35: We discuss Fall Athletics in CT and in the Shoreline Conference. Hildie shares a very positive assessment with regards to how her student/athletes and coaches, as well as the other schools in the Shoreline Conference, have managed the new safety protocol and scheduling adjustments.
  • 08:50: Leadership Challenges during Uncertain Times – “Leading is easy when you’re winning…”. Hildie highlights the importance of communication, trusting relationships, and creative solutions to overcome unique challenges.
  • 18:45: We hear about Hildie’s experiences at Springfield College and how those experiences helped shape her as a leader.
  • 29:19: Hildie and I discuss her time as a teacher/coach at Classical Magnet School and her jump to Lyme Old Lyme Schools for the Athletic Director position. Hildie shares challenges faced and overcome, and the strategies implemented to do so!
  • 42:03: Relationships and Skill Building – Hildie shares her hopes for what each student athlete takes from their time in the Lyme Old Lyme athletics program.
  • Episode Closure: We talk about Hildie’s experiences as a running coach, discuss the current plan for Winter Sports in CT, and advice for Winter Sports athletes and coaches. We also learn about Hildie’s youth and current inspirations and the importance of participating in competitive sports.

Episode #7

Steve Opalenik, LMHC

Leads with Empower

“Motivation isn’t fairy dust; you don’t just sprinkle it on you and you’re good to go. Motivation comes from making a decision and committing to that decision.”

Our next guest on the Lead with Empower Podcast is Steve Opalenik. Steve is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Founder of The Promethean Project – a non-profit, community-based whole body wellness services provider. I first met Steve back in 2009 during our work together with Springfield College’s LACES Program and, since then, Steve has done nothing short of tremendous work in the field of mental, physical, and emotional health! Here are highlights from Steve Opalenik Leads with Empower:

  • 00:00: Episode Opening and Steve Opalenik Introduction
  • 10:30: We learn more about Steve’s non-profit, The Promethean Project and hear about the leadership challenges faced during Steve’s “entrepreneurial leap” in 2015
  • 20:45: Steve discusses the mission of The Promethean Project and the programs currently offered. Learn more about The Promethean Project
  • 31:40: “Break the Chains, Find Your Flame” – Steve dishes on his podcast which is focused on helping listeners break free from the chains of society to find their potential
  • 42:50: Steve talks about his time as a student at the University of Massachusetts (B.A. Psychology, 2005) and Springfield College (Master’s in Education, Marriage, & Family Therapy, 20011).
  • 46:45: Steve and I talk about our time “cutting our teeth in the field of human development” with Springfield College’s L.A.C.E.S. Program (Leaders in Academics, Community Engagement, & Service)
  • 56:15: Steve discusses a few personal stories regarding Leadership of Self, Leadership of Others, and his Leadership Legacy.
  • 01:01:35: Push-Ups, Pancakes, and Positivity – You’ll just have to listen!!!
  • 01:08:45: Steve shares an uplifting and inspirational message for those who are experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic.
  • 01:13:00: We close the episode hearing about Steve’s desired and actual superpowers.

Follow the Steve and the great work he is doing with The Promethean Project on Facebook and on Instagram

Episode #6

Coach Jim Hofher

Leads with Empower

“First figure out the who, then figure out what. To find the guys that will succeed in your program, look at their character, trustworthiness, and work ethic. Find the guys that you want to be around every day and who want to be around you and your program every day!”

Jim Hofher, Defensive Analyst for Wake Forest University Football, joins the Lead with Empower Podcast! Jim has coached at both the collegiate and professional levels for 42 years. Jim offers tremendous leadership insight applicable in football and in life!

02:30: We welcome Jim to the Lead with Empower Podcast, check-in on him and his family, and hear about the start of the Wake Forest University Football Season.

13:00: Jim discusses the importance of communication in leadership; specifically when dealing with uncertain situations

17:15: We hear about Jim’s time as a high school and collegiate student-athlete, as well as the start of Jim’s coaching career. Jim shares thoughts on the importance of relationship development in coaching and in leadership.

34:45: Jim talks about the jump from assistant coach to head coach and discusses the importance of being a curious learner as a leader.

40:15: Jim and I discuss the importance of recruiting athletes with high character, tremendous work ethic, and trustworthiness. Jim shares leadership advice for aspiring college athletes and aspiring coaches. “There is no easy road, it requires initiative.”

53:20: We wrap up the episode hearing about Jim’s childhood inspiration, student-athletes who have “wowed” him, and a great “non-football” book for aspiring leaders (Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins)

Episode #5

Ken Watson and Victoria Alderman from the Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg Lead with Empower

“We teach our scholars that everything in life is not peaches and cream; there will be challenges and adversity. We help them build the skills to grind and persevere, stay on the right path, and achieve their personal greatness!”

Ken Watson (Dean of Students) and Victoria Alderman (Community Relations Coordinator) from the Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg (FL) join the Lead with Empower Podcast. Ken and Victoria are both wonderful people doing some tremendous work with the Academy Prep scholars and both share a wealth of leadership insight and wisdom during our episode together, here are the highlights from our discussion!

  • 02:30 – Ken and Victoria discuss the start of the 2020/2021 school year at AP, reflect on the end of the 2019/2020 school year and discuss and the importance of communication with their scholars and families to make sure the scholars have all they need to develop into transformational leaders.
  • 14:07 – We learn some background about the Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg; including the AP Mission and the “AP Way”.
  • 27:20 – Victoria and Ken share insight into their respective roles at AP and discuss their journey to AP.
  • 40:05 – Victoria and Ken discuss the key leadership skills scholars develop during their 4 years at AP.
  • 46:00 – We hear about strategies implemented by AP to help scholars build connections and a strong sense of community despite the disconnection associated with distance learning.
  • 01:04:41 – Victoria and Ken discuss their childhood inspirations, what currently motivates/inspires them, and share uplifting messages for students and teachers

Follow Academy Prep on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn more about the tremendous work they do!

Episode #4

Dr. Terrell Hill Leads with Empower

“Leadership is about legacy – being out front, taking a risk, and making a way for those following you. You get blessed to be a blessing to others!”

Dr. Terrell Hill has over 27 years experience in education and educational leadership – currently serving as the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources with Windsor Public Schools. In addition to his work with Windsor Schools, Dr. Hill is also the Founder and President of the Black Leaders and Administrators Consortium, Inc. (BLAC). You will find out very quickly during our episode that Dr. Hill is all about leadership – sharing wisdom and insight from his 27 years of experience with students, educators, educational leaders, and more! Highlights from our episode include:

  • The importance of leadership during the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; blending the “whatever we need to do to get this done” attitude with flexibility, and a level of calmness to exist and thrive during moments of uncertainty.
  • A discussion about Windsor Schools’ past work with Empower Leadership (New Teacher Orientation Events and Administrative Retreats) and the importance of “comfort zone expanding” experiences for educators.
  • Learning about Dr. Hill’s journey from Springfield, MA to the United States Army, and to his current role with Windsor Schools; including those who influenced him along the way!
  • Dr. Hill’s dissertation study, The Career Paths of Black and White Superintendents, and how his study served as an inspiration to found BLAC, Inc. Learn more about BLAC at www.blacleaders.org

Episode #3

Al Carbone Leads with Empower

“If you’re not telling your story, someone else is and they’re probably doing it wrong!”

Al Carbone is in his 17th year as Commissioner of the Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) – one of the premiere athletic conferences for high school sports in the State of Connecticut. Al, a formal high school and collegiate athlete from East Haven, CT, does a tremendous job as the ambassador for the SCC. Al and I discuss the return of high school sports in Connecticut and much more during our episode, including:

  • Al’s background in athletics and his role/responsibilities as the Commissioner of the SCC.
  • The current state of high school sports – most notably, the decision making process with regards to restarting high school athletics this Fall.
  • Leadership lessons that high school athletes across the State can glean from the impact COVID-19 has had on high school athletics.
  • Why the return to high school sports is so important for athletes, their families, and their school communities.

Episode #2

James Lightfoot III Leads with Empower

James is currently the Director of Youth and Education Programs for the Urban League of Springfield, Inc. In addition to his youth development work with the Urban League of Springfield, Inc., James serves on multiple boards of the local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. James and I discuss many topics during our episode, including:

  • James’ journey from Detroit, MI, to Grand Valley State University, and Springfield College. James shares stories about his “personal commitment challenge”, his study abroad trip to Australia, and his calling as a youth development professional.
  • The importance of helping youths and young adults identify their vision, develop an action plan, and make the most out of every situation in school, at home, and in your community.
  • The challenges youths and young adults have faced in 2020 and the mentorship, leadership, and support provided to uplift and empower those young adults!
  • How James leverages performing and creative arts in his mentorship and leadership of the youths and young adults her serves.

Episode #1

Dr. Ted France Leads with Empower

Ted is a faculty member in the Physical Education and Health Education major at Springfield College and also serves as the President of the Faculty Senate. Ted is one of, if not the best experiential educator I have ever crossed paths with – a true craftsman! Ted and I discuss many topics during our episode, including:

  • A behind the scenes look at the operational tempo of the leaders at Springfield College to prepare for a return to campus in the Fall
  • Leadership advice for students and teachers who are embarking on a very unique start to school
  • “Eye opening” moments as physical education students at Springfield College
  • The philosophy and implementation of experiential education
  • The education and development of leaders through intentional skill development experiences

Lead With Empower Podcast

Listen to Season I

With 24 episodes filled with leadership insights, Season I is still available to listen to.

Visit our archives page to check out these episodes!



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