UD alum leads program aimed at developing young leaders

University of Delaware alumnus Rob Siegfried has simple advice for young people interested in becoming leaders:

“Leadership isn’t really about leading other people. It’s about leading yourself.”

Siegfried, UD Class of 1981 and chief executive officer and founder of The Siegfried Group, a national CPA and leadership advisory firm based in Wilmington, spoke to local middle and high school students at the semi-annual Siegfried Youth Leadership Program (SYLP), held on Monday, April 16 at Clayton Hall.

The half-day event, which debuted in 2016, provides Delaware secondary-school students with tools and strategies designed to help them develop into young leaders. This year’s program incorporated presentations, activities and a panel discussion to help participants explore leadership qualities such as character ethic, goal-setting and fearlessness.

Siegfried also encouraged students to grow by taking calculated risks.

“A lot of you might think entrepreneurs take big risks, but they don’t,” he said. “They realize that the risk of not doing something would be worse than doing it.”

Approximately 300 students and teachers from 13 schools statewide attended the event, produced by The Siegfried Group in partnership with the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) in UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and Junior Achievement of Delaware.

Siegfried’s presentation included a panel discussion with several students who discussed how they implemented leadership principles into their education and career planning.

“You have to work on yourself before you can lead others,” said Chelsea Anokye-Agyei, a panelist and student from Hodgson Vocational Technical High School.

Anokye-Agyei, who revealed that she has to work hard to overcome her natural shyness in her volunteer work as a Sunday school teacher, said that she is undeterred in her commitment to lead her young charges: “I want to help younger people develop the qualities that will help them succeed,” she said.

After the discussion concluded, guest speaker Michelle Poler took the stage to deliver an upbeat, energetic talk that encouraged students to lead more daring lives by letting go of fears and insecurities.

Poler received international attention with her 100 Days Without Fear video project, in which she confronted dozens of frightening situations ranging from trying raw oysters to dancing alone in Times Square. The challenge, which has since developed into a full-time speaking career and social media movement, taught Poler a critical lesson.

“The enemy of success is not failure,” she advised the audience. “It’s comfort.”

The event concluded with lunch and a lip-sync performance by students from Gauger-Cobbs Middle School.

Students and teachers alike were enthusiastic when discussing the program.

“This conference is the best I have been to,” said Kelly Bench, a social studies teacher and national honor society advisor at Hodgson. “Students need to learn leadership qualities for everyday life, and Mr. Siegfried provides practical strategies for students to make a positive change for their future.”

Asked if she planned to bring students to the next SYLP event, Bench was emphatic.

“I am obsessed with this event,” she said.

“I enjoyed the conference a lot,” agreed one of Bench’s students. ”It’s a great environment – everyone believes in themselves.”

Producing the SYLP is only one of the ways Siegfried gives back to the community. Last year, Siegfried and his wife, Kathy, donated $1.5 million to UD to fund the Siegfried Initiative for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which supports the development of leadership studies. Siegfried, who holds a bachelor of science in economics and accounting and an MBA from UD, said that he feels a deep commitment to his alma mater and its surrounding community.

“It’s emotionally gratifying to share what I have learned,” explained Siegfried.

“It’s really neat to become a catalyst in your own life and then help young people understand that they can be a catalyst in theirs,” he continued. “More than anything else, I want them to realize they’re in control.”

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