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My Journey through Leadership and Beta Alpha Psi

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John Phelan (back right) poses with the UTD Beta Alpha Psi officer team and professor Tiffany Bortz

I attended workshops, classes and social organizations where speakers expounded on the necessity of leadership skills and how everyone must be a leader in his or her own right. Never did the speakers say how to do it, though. So, I wondered, how does one attain leadership? Is it bequeathed from one natural, God-given-talented leader to another? Is it earned from years of paying of dues? Or, possibly, is it luck of the draw? Like many underclassmen and transfer students, I searched for extracurricular involvement and leadership opportunities on campus, seeking the perfect fit for my personality, my skills and my career goals. The perfect fit was hard to find. Then I became a member of Beta Alpha Psi.

The Lambda Omicron chapter of Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) serves the UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management as its premier accounting and finance honor society. With more than 150 active members, the Lambda Omicron chapter is one of the largest student-run organizations in the University, in the Jindal School of Management and in the entire BAP network. I joined Beta Alpha Psi as a pledge in the fall of 2013. I participated in the meetings with prominent local accounting firms; I canvassed Meet the Firms; I volunteered at Shoes for Souls, a nonprofit partner of BAP; I attended the Excel workshop and the initiation ceremony; and I interviewed for an open officer position at the first chance. I became the vice president of marketing of the Lambda Omicron chapter at the beginning of my senior year in 2014. I finally had my opportunity to be a leader — I had only to seize it.

But how do I seize it? This was my first time in a leadership role with real responsibilities and consequences, and my peers were counting on me to do my job and do it well. There were a variety of avenues in which to take my newfound authority. As vice president of marketing, I decided to communicate with our membership in new and creative ways that would speak to our technology-savvy membership. I added Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to the club’s existing Facebook page, redesigned the graphics and logos, and linked the three accounts using a social media aggregator to utilize all three mediums while adding no additional work. In all, I considered my first endeavor into leadership a success.

The following year, as a graduate student, I was asked to serve as president. It was the opportunity that my professors, advisors and parents pushed me toward, and it was the challenge I wanted for myself. I wanted to communicate with our expansive member base articulately, eloquently and effectively. I wanted to manage and lead a group of officers, my peers. I wanted to be the point of contact for members. I wanted these not out of ego, but because the position was the opportunity to lead, communicate and organize. I agreed to serve.

Our new officer group, which included Tue Tran, Elaine Chen, Malicka Modgil, Lesley Capehart, newcomers Pablo Juarez and Austin Lee, and the since-graduated Travis White, instituted sweeping changes that redefined Beta Alpha Psi at UT Dallas. First, we automated the application process, converting an arduous paper application into a seamless electronic application, which required constructing and designing a new website from scratch. Second, Malicka developed a new system to track member requirements, promoting transparency and efficiency. Third, Tue drafted and created a new scholarship to give back to high-performing and dedicated members in good standing. Fourth, Elaine transformed the Beta Alpha Psi office, which had badly needed some TLC. And finally, Lesley redesigned our bulletin marketing, optimized check-in procedures at meetings and found new venues for our members to volunteer.

Looking back, I was initially unprepared for the added responsibility that accompanies the role of president. However, as I gained experience, my understanding of the president’s role grew, and I made significant progress. The first thing I learned is, it is we, not I. As a group, the officer team and I worked together, and together we accomplished more than I thought possible. Because of the changes initiated by our new officer group, the Lambda Omicron chapter received a record 170 applications for membership in fall of 2015, more than 50 percent greater than any previous semester in the chapter's 10-year history. Meeting attendance has nearly doubled from the same meetings last year. We all were able to enjoy the success.

UTD Beta Alpha Psi volunteered at the North Texas Food Bank

So, how does one attain leadership? It turns out it's a lifelong journey. Leadership takes critical self-assessment of one's own strengthens and weaknesses, diligent communication internally with the group and externally with stakeholders, sharp and shared vision setting, quick responsiveness to others’ needs and desires, and many other developed qualities. But — most importantly — painful trial and error is essential for any leader. A leader must be able to take prudent and measured risks to effect change, challenge the status quo and build something new and innovative. That same leader must share the successes and rewards of risk-taking with its group but also learn to take individual responsibility for failures. I hoped leadership would come to me early in life and in abundant quantities, but, like everything else in life, it must be earned, developed and nurtured.

I thought once I became the president of BAP, I would be a leader once and for all. I discovered it was only the beginning of my journey. I had some early successes but also a few failures. I need to better lead, inspire, build and motivate people and teams. It will come in time.

John Phelan

John Phelan is a graduate student pursuing his Master's in Accounting and currently sitting for the CPA examination. On campus, he is a graduate teaching assistant, a member of the Professional Program in Accounting and the president of Beta Alpha Psi. John has previously worked at Deloitte & Touche LLP and for Texas State Representative Jason Villalba in his district office. Read more articles

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