Leadership Lessons for Everyday Living

by Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

You may be surprised by this topic…as was I…but believe it or not, I am writing about how (and why) to be a princess. A year ago, I would have never believed that pageants and princesses were relevant to my clients. But recently, I had the opportunity to be part of the rigorous process of becoming a Rose Festival princess here in Portland. It was truly a privilege to witness the participants’ courage and conviction and watch the stunning transformation that the young women go through.

About 2 months ago, a woman called to ask if I could coach her daughter, Heidi, who was entering a pageant and wanted to become a more confident speaker. Not a big fan of the pageant scene, I informed her that I probably wasn’t the best fit.
But when she shared more about the pageant and her daughter, she got my attention.

The pageant: the Rose Festival Court.
Her daughter: a lovely, gentle high school student who has struggled with dyslexia.

As a fellow dyslexic, I was personally touched by Heidi’s journey. First, as a timid high school student, she had asserted her needs and changed the rules of the school so she could have a bit more time to process information on tests. Then, to make sure her words reflected her thoughts, she worked diligently with a tutor who helped her write and speak with greater clarity. And finally, she volunteers every week because she believes that as a child of privilege it is her duty to give back to the community. This, at age 15. Impressive!

How could I say no?

In the first round of pageant judging, the contestants give a two-minute presentation and then answer three random questions in less than one minute. The girls are judged on three things: their community contribution, their ability to articulate, and their confidence and poise. Since the girls travel throughout the state to a variety of places, the judges are seeking young women who can maintain a positive presence in any setting.

Okay, take a moment. Reflect on when you’ve had to be so present and immediately articulate. The stress of job interviews keeps many people stuck in jobs they hate. The fear of going out and asking for business has crippled many a small business. And then think about these girls, standing before adults three times their age, quickly answering random questions. It’s like a very focused, very public job interview. Oh, the added piece: one of the ‘agreements’ is that past princesses don’t share the questions they’ve been asked. The girls pride themselves on learning how to be confident and ready for any question they might be asked.

Throughout the process, Heidi’s commitment and dedication was unsurpassed. During our first session we focused on identifying her core personal values: What really inspires her in life? What does she stand for no matter what? Then she went out and asked her parents, family and friends to ask her questions. She related the questions back to her values, and used examples to highlight their importance. Amazing. (Keep in mind, she is NOT a speech/debate student. She’s just a young woman who wants to learn to be more confident and at ease in the world.)

In the second round of judging, the girls present a longer speech about what is important to them in their community. Heidi focused on the social inequities she experiences while delivering food to the homeless. After these speeches, the judges privately select one princess from each high school to be on the Rose Festival Court. The chosen ‘princess’ is not informed of her title until after she, and her pageant mates, present a speech to their entire school at a special assembly. At the conclusion of the assembly, the winner is announced.

When I’ve shared this with friends and colleagues, many replied, “That seems a bit harsh. They should tell them the winner before they speak.” But think about it—if you have something to say, should you only give it your all if you think you have won? No. If you have a personal conviction, speak it…no matter what the outcome might be.

Heidi was selected to be a Rose Festival princess. Last week, she was on the news. Throughout the summer, the princesses will travel around the state. Next year, she’s off to college. Her ambition is to become a research biologist or doctor.
Get ready world. The young women of today are gearing up to be the leaders of tomorrow.

And, for you: Where might you ‘show up’ more fully in your life and succinctly say what you believe in—regardless of the outcome? It’s a great lesson for us all. So, when you see those young women waving their pageant wave, remember…after the flowers wilt, they are all out in the community doing their best to make this world a little bit better place.

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Carolyn Campbell has more than 30 years of experience working with non-profit and for-profit businesses. In creative and connecting ways, Carolyn melds her expertise in community outreach, education and business development to help clients expand their reach and increase their impact…using their unique approach to life. Her areas of specialty include leadership, visioning, outreach and community building.