The path to leadership

Damon Arnold discusses past struggles, keys to success at Wheelhouse Talks event

By Megan Webster | 2/12/17 9:43pm

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GVL / Emily Frye Speaker Dr. Damon Arnold during The Wheelhouse Talk on Friday Feb. 10, 2017.

by Emily Frye / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Getting kicked out of not one, but two high schools did not stop Damon Arnold from reaching his greatest potential. Arnold is the , director of academic services in Grand Valley State University’s athletic department. He earned his doctorate degree in education administration and became a cross-country motivational speaker despite facing hurdles earlier in life. His philosophy on leadership and success is to “connect the dots backwards” and be surrounded by encouraging and supportive people.

Arnold spoke Friday, Feb. 10, in the Loosemore Auditorium in GVSU’s DeVos Center about his difficult path to leadership and what he believes to be the key to success for aspiring leaders everywhere. His lecture was presented as another installment of the Wheelhouse Talks, a program that invites mentors who wish to share their leadership experiences and philosophy with the community. These talks are free to the public and allow the audience to engage in a personal forum with the speaker. The Wheelhouse Talks are part of the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy, a subset of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Ollie Ajami introduces speaker Dr. Damon Arnold on Friday Feb. 10, 2017.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Speaker Dr. Damon Arnold during The Wheelhouse Talk on Friday Feb. 10, 2017.

Ollie Ajami, a quarterback on GVSU’s football team, introduced Arnold at the event.

“He always instilled a sense of confidence in his peers,” Ajami said. “He made it clear that when it comes to pursuing success, boundaries are fictional, and with perseverance, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”

Incorporating personal stories of two high school expulsions, Arnold explained his theory of connecting the dots backward. He told the crowd that everything happening in someone’s life is happening for them, not to them.

“I don’t have bad experiences,” Arnold said. “The reason I don’t have bad experiences is because I learn something from every experience. The lessons we learn in life when we pick things up will help us connect the dots backwards.”

Emphasizing this philosophy, Arnold said a future leader also has to surround themselves with people who are going to push them to become a better version of themselves.

“Leaders hang around people who help them to grow,” Arnold said. “That’s what leaders do. They hang around people who can stretch something differently than they ever thought possible.”

While future leaders can surround themselves with people who have a positive impact on their life, Arnold also pointed out in order for a leader to reach their highest potential, they must realize their own weaknesses and devise a strategy of how to improve them.

“You have to be able to look at yourself,” Arnold said. “You have to be transparent with your weaknesses. You’ve got to be able to say, ‘What do I need to strengthen in order for me to be a person that I deserve to be?’”

Tying his points together about connecting the dots backward and having a strong support system, Arnold pointed out the majority of people do not take the necessary steps to pursue their ideas and dreams before it is too late.

“A lot of people say that the richest place on the planet is the oil fields in the Middle East, or they say it’s the diamond minds,” Arnold said. “The richest place on this planet is the cemetery. So many people die with ideas and dreams inside of them that could’ve changed the world, and we don’t get to experience it.”

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