Last spring, Chagrin Falls Middle School (CFMS) Principal Laila Discenza collaborated with students to ask for speakers that would be interesting for middle school students. Autumn Taylor, an eighth grader at CFMS, did not take the easy route and ask a family member or a friend. Autumn thought of outstanding companies in the Cleveland area and decided to write to the CEO of Progressive Insurance. To Autumn's surprise, Tricia Griffith, the CEO, personally responded.
The eighth-grade team excitedly scheduled Mrs. Griffith to speak to the entire middle school in the Performing Arts Center. She was a career speaker brought in to talk about leadership and effective team work. Prior to Mrs. Griffith speaking to the students, they discussed the key concepts of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (based on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Mrs. Griffith touched on several concepts from the book in her speech.
She encouraged students to be proactive, like Autumn was; reach out for what you want. She assured the teens that you don't always have a direct path to success. You have to be flexible to take risks, try new things, and set daily attainable goals such as: try to make someone else's day better each day. She talked about the importance of being a good listener to truly get along with others and be a good team player. Prioritizing becomes essential for your personal and professional happiness. The example she gave was that one of her sons played football his senior year of high school. His team made it to the state championship game. Her interview with the board for the position of CEO of Progressive was scheduled for the same day. She prioritized and decided to reach out about attending the game and hope for a reschedule of her interview. The culture that Progressive breeds is win-win thinking. Her colleague that was up for the same position gave up his interview time slot to allow her to interview and attend that championship game, (which her son's team did win). She pointed out her gratitude for her colleague's kind gesture and that a title does not always determine leadership; it's how you treat others. She stressed that synergy, accomplishing more as a group than as an individual, is an expectation at Progressive. When students asked about some of their favorite Progressive television commercials, they learned that it was a true group project to come up with the ads with Dr. Rick, who helps people who are ¨becoming their parents.¨ Finally, she encouraged the audience to remember to “sharpen their saw.: Take time to slow down, unplug, and recharge. Remember your priorities and take time for yourself in order to truly have positive energy. This helps others and enables you to be a strong member of your team. Take time to exercise, eat right, take a break from social media or video games to reconnect and be your best self.
It was an honor to hear such a grounded and level leader. The mother of six children interacted incredibly well with her audience of 12-, 13-, and 14-year olds. She did not miss a beat when asked, “Do you have beef with Jake from State Farm?” She wished everyone success. “It is no mystery as to why Progressive is one of the top 20 employers in the Cleveland area and a nearly $80 billion company,” said Teacher Kathleen Aranavage. “It's only with strong leadership, positive culture, and great employees that we can reach such great success!”