BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Thomas, INDIANA (PENNSYLVANIA) 2023, a former Consul for his chapter, details below how breaking expectations, mentorship and empowering others have been key to his leadership journey
Transformational leadership is the practice by which leaders inspire and empower others to innovate and create change that will positively impact the Fraternity and ultimately the world. The transformational leader first must learn to manage self before being able to lead others and cultivate action within their community and campus.
The leadership path Jayden Thomas, INDIANA (PENNSYLVANIA) 2023, has taken starts close to home in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, with his family and his neighborhood. Both play a key role in forming the drive and servant leadership he’s become known for. A rising senior, Thomas balances his duties as student and student athlete on the track and field team with his chapter responsibilities; he’s been Kustos and most recently Consul from April 2021 through April 2022. Thomas discusses below his drive for success, the impact Sigma Chi has made on his life and what transformational leadership and putting it into practice means to him.
What drew you to Sigma Chi and ultimately the role of Consul? Has your experience serving as Consul of your chapter changed your approach or attitude toward leadership? If so, how?
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I’m a student athlete, and you don’t really see that combination of being a student athlete and also being in Greek[-letter] life. It’s definitely one or the other. I wanted to push myself and break that barrier and say, ‘Hey, I can be part of this fraternity but also make sure that I attend to my duties as an athlete, maintain that discipline and, overall, just enhance my career and college experience.’
And then relating that to Consul, I noticed that whenever I came to my Consul, he was very well rounded and a very personable person. Yeah, he does duties with chapter accreditation and also the Peterson [Significant Chapter Award], but at the same time, he didn’t let those duties affect his personality. He was always a brother before he was a Consul. That definitely drove me. That [idea of being a brother before being a Consul] allowed me to make such an impact on everyone else and to just take that leadership and push myself. That’s something that has really resonated with me. I wanted to take that risk [of being Consul], and it was a great rewarding experience because it molded me so much more to becoming a better man and person in college.
You received the Excellence in Chapter Presidency Award from your university’s Greek-letter life community, and it’s an award that the chapter has won the past four out of the five years. It seems like strong leadership is a tradition in the chapter. Have you ever felt a pressure to perform as a leader, and if so, how do you deal with the pressure?
Throughout these two semesters as Consul, there’s always been pressure: ‘How am I going to maintain the expectations of my previous Consul? How am I going to maintain excellence and be a leader?’ And honestly, you can’t compare apples to oranges. Every leader is different. So, it’s a matter of not only maintaining yourself as Consul and doing your duties, but also being a relatable person and, ultimately, just being someone that people can rely on. Saying that, my Greek[-letter] advisor saw that [and asked], ‘Yeah, you did your job on paper, but at the same time, are you a good student? Are you a good leader? What do you do? What are you involved in? How your grades?’ I want to be well rounded, and because of that, just trying to succeed, that allowed me to do [the role of Consul] the best as I could.
Jayden Thomas Quick Facts:
What has been a leadership challenge that you’ve faced in Sigma Chi and how have you handled it?
One challenge that definitely pertained to me the most was separating friendship from leadership duties. For example, I had a brother that was in a good bit of trouble because he didn’t pay [his dues or] anything. Although I tried to be a good brother and say, ‘Hey, you’re my pledge brother; I want to work with you and just maintain that connection,’ at the same time, I knew that I had to follow the protocol and understand that he’s not upholding his duties as a Sigma Chi. Therefore, I had to take action for that. That was pretty hard for me, especially when it comes to my pledge brothers. But growing as a whole, it’s really hard to keep that personal and professional balance to being a Consul. It’s something that is very difficult to have because you don’t want your brothers to think that you’re a bad guy. You’re simply just doing your job. So, I think that was definitely one thing that I had to work on and maintain as a leader.
And then along with that, I would also say delegation because prior to being Consul, I wasn’t that much of a powerful figure. And next thing you know when I become Consul, I’m talking to a lot of people and my e[xecutive] board, focusing on community service, on Derby Days, on our capital [campaign], our dues and all of those things that maintain a chapter. I learned how to do that because I let my brothers know, ‘Hey, yeah, we do this. But this is the how and why.’ And that was something that was very important to me when it came to delegation, that I’m not telling my brothers to do something just to do it. I’m explaining to them that we’re doing this because A, B, and C makes the chapter better as a whole.
How do you balance your extracurricular activities, school responsibilities and social time with friends while being a strong performer athletically, academically and in your chapter?
I think one of the biggest things is when you have so much you have to do with being a student, being a person, being with friends and being a leader, you have to give yourself downtime. And what I mean by that is give yourself off days. Whenever you feel that there’s a lot of pressure on you and that you’ve been burnt out, take it easy for the day and give yourself some rest. That’s something I tried to preach to my e[executive] board, that if you’re burnt out, you always have those days ahead of you that you can use to rest. That’s something that is very important to me.
And then along with that, along with off days, just making sure that you know your schedule off the top of your head because obviously we’re busy, you’re not going to have that much time for your workload, and you want to make sure that you get the best sleep possible. Saying that, yeah, I might be busy throughout my morning and day, but if I am able to have that hour at night where I can answer my emails or utilize my time to do homework and assignments, I’m going to do that. Because it’s important to have that balance, even if you might be occupied and overloaded with your day. But usually, I will give myself off days whenever possible. And usually, I would use my time either on the weekends when I know I’m not doing anything and have time to be a little more productive, or I would maintain my workload of Consul and being a student during night when I’m done with class, I’m done with e[xecutive] board, I’m done with practice and I’m able to just do [these other responsibilities].
As a leader on your high school’s track and field team and being elected senior class president, it seems like you have had leadership qualities since you were young. Is there a particular instance that motivated you to be a leader among your peers?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t come from a very privileged area or family. And obviously, I never got to experience some things that my [peers did]. Saying that, you know, I want to break that barrier of you can’t do anything in your hometown because you come from that area. I want to get better and just say, ‘Hey, I want your environment to not break you down but build you up.’ Grow from your environment, and make yourself better from it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown. I’ll always be appreciative of where I come from. But at the same time, I understand that I can do a lot more than what my peers may say and do because they come from the same area as me. And because of that, that has allowed me to do so well.
You recently attended the 2022 Krach Transformational Leaders Workshop in Bowling Green, Ohio, and participated in the Sigma Chi Leadership Institute’s Servant Leadership Certificate track. What was your experience like participating in those, and any takeaways to share?
To begin, K[rach] TLW was an experience that truly was eye-opening about how much the International Fraternity cares about the undergraduates’ professional development. From resume reviews to networking with distinguished alumni, K[rach] TLW allowed me, along with other brothers, to truly make the most of the week. I loved being around so many Sigma Chis, and I am thankful I attended.
As for servant leadership [education], I can confidently say the certificate curriculum provided me with the skills and tools to effectively communicate, empower and lead others. Major takeaways included the SOAR and Feedback models, understanding social styles along with learning how to develop effective teams. All of these aspects will help me as I soon enter the professional world upon graduation.
What’s next for you?
What’s next right now, since I’ve got my internship with PNC [Financial Services Group Inc.] in treasury management, just figuring out what do I want to do to start my professional career. So, I’m waiting to hear back at the end at the end of the summer to see if I get an offer for PNC corporate, but along with that, just schoolwise, finish up my school year as a senior, maintain my honors and maintain my GPA, but aside from that, still be that mentor figure in Sigma Chi. Even though I may not be on the exec[utive] board, I’ve held [the roles of] Kustos and Consul. I want to give that insight and feedback to the new generation on the e[xecutive] board. So, just enjoying the last of my senior year, being a leader, maintaining my athletics and academics and overall just seeing where things take me as I finish university.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
To begin, definitely my father, Mark. Obviously we’re not the same person, and obviously, as his son, I want to do better than what he has done. But at the same time, I know who he is as a person and a personable character. He raised me right to make sure that I don’t fall into a trap of not succeeding and achieving self-actualization, however that may be. He was hard, but at the same time, I still respect that because he made me who I am.
And then just relating that even more, I want to say my uncle Marvin. He has always been hospitable to everyone, and that made me want to be hospitable, be a host, be a leader and just be a servant leader overall. I think that’s where I get my inspiration from just to be a good person. No matter how many times I’ve visited him, and no matter how many times family or anyone else may come across his house, he’s always been a great host and a great person. That really resonated with me at a young age.
Another influence is my older brother, Michael. He is the definition of a great man. Very confident, very selfless, has raised a great family. Understand that he came from another area that may not be great, but look at him now. He’s in Texas doing well within corporate business. And [his drive to succeed is] something I really do appreciate from him also.
So, I think my three main influences that have allowed me to be me are probably my father, my uncle Marvin and then my older brother, Michael.
What are important attributes of a successful leader, and how do you continue to grow and develop as one?
One aspect that’s very critical is communication, or just the ability to confidently speak to someone and understand who they are. And also, when we talk about communication, just comprehension, too. Being able to communicate effectively can go a long way if you respect the way that you speak.
Along with that, being able to empower others is such a big thing that I learned that’s powerful. [When you] empower [members] to do well not only for their chapter or Fraternity, but also for themselves, that goes a long way because they feel empowered and special when they accomplish a main goal. And by being able to empower others and also show them that they’re appreciated, that goes such a long way.
Another aspect is just being analytical, being able to utilize decision-making skills, understanding situations and being socially aware of yourself. So, I’d say that those are big things that a leader can have when it comes to just increasing their leadership and maintaining it, too.
What advice do you have for ways people can inspire and empower others to create change around them?
My advice is to empower others and just appreciate them for who they are because you never know what they can bring to the table. Allow others to embrace who they are. You don’t have to be like Michael, who was Peter’s Consul and did everything by the book. No, be yourself because if you’re able to utilize your skills effectively, it goes a long way and just makes things so much easier for operations. And, overall, just understanding what you can do successfully and how to gain more success.
What does transformational leadership and putting it into practice mean to you?
A transformational leader is someone who embraces their ignorance. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way. We offer from nothing; we don’t know anything. And then we’re able to have mentors and leaders and allow them to teach us to maintain what we’ve been taught and also go through a cycle of teaching others. So, don’t be afraid to not know anything, because that’s something I’ve learned a lot. So, I think starting from scratch and always having that belief to learn is what makes a transformational leader because we all start from zero, from the bottom up, from phase one. And then you have your mentors, you get taught so much that you’re able to maintain as long as you truly appreciate what you’re being taught. And that’s what allows you to become a transformational leader, in my opinion.
Anything else to add?
Take this opportunity to get yourself uncomfortable. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable because that goes a long way. Yeah, you may not know how to handle a situation, but then eventually you will learn how to simply because you’ve been in that experience before. And experience, as we all know, is so integral toward life. So, I think being uncomfortable with something is a big aspect when it comes to one’s experience within Sigma Chi.
Key Takeaways for Undergraduate Leaders:
Transformational leadership is the practice by which leaders inspire and empower others to innovate and create change that will positively impact the Fraternity and ultimately the world. The transformational leader first must learn to manage self before being able to lead others and cultivate action within their community and campus. This quarterly series highlights members who are putting transformational leadership into practice. For more information about Sigma Chi’s Transformational Leader program, visit sigmachi.org/transformational-leader.