When the students in HB 451 – Emerging Leadership Journey in The School of Hospitality Business at MSU decided they would benefit from better personal organizational skills, they called on the best.
They asked The School’s Alumni Relations Coordinator and event planner extraordinaire Lena Loeffler to come to class on Monday, December 2, to give her perspective on “best practices” in staying organized while managing myriad projects at work, family life, and personal goals.
Introducing her to the students, class Professor and Director of The School Dr. Ron Cichy, gave a little background. “Lena and I have worked together since 1985,” he said. “I know of no one else who has the same ability to juggle so many balls in the air and manage all her priorities so efficiently and with such grace.”
Lena acknowledges that her role in The School demands organization. In most 365-day periods, Lena manages no fewer than 64 events, ranging from the seven School-sponsored alumni events during Homecoming Weekend to The School’s role three times a year in presenting BMI III for the Club Managers Association of America on campus. She sees to every detail surrounding The School’s Alumni Association Celebration of Leadership in New York City during the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Association Show each November and Annual Gathering of Leaders each May during the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Lena manages all the public relations efforts in The School, its website, and every single bit of information about all of The School’s thousands of alumni. In fact, among those alumni, scattered around the world, Lena is the “go to” person for anything they might need or be involved in at The School.
Believe it or not, even in the midst of all the responsibilities her roles in The School require, she also finds time to volunteer for and lead events around campus (Just one example: after a full day of handling the logistics of The School’s Alumni Association Board Meeting each Homecoming, herding nearly 100 returning alumni, as well as another 100 students on and around the float, she calmly heads up the logistics of feeding the 200 members of the Spartan Marching Band immediately following the Homecoming Parade.) Even her weekends tend to fill up – she and her family are very active members of their church in Williamston, MI.
Indispensable? You bet. But the students were interested in Lena’s advice about avoiding chaos and stress in their personal lives. A successful career woman, a wife, a mother to three daughters, and a second mom to two nieces and a nephew, Lena told the students that anyone can learn to be organized and productive. Her proven methods? She said that she makes good use of a calendar, compiling a to-do list, and noting which days each item needs to be accomplished. The list gets reviewed each night, so that the next day can be planned ahead of time. In fact, each evening, EVERYTHING is reviewed, down to what she’ll be wearing the next day, so that no surprises derail her the next morning. Lena is a graduate of the Dale Carnegie Course® and each day models for the students the organizing and stress-reduction principles she learned there.
She syncs a handwritten calendar and her electronic calendars each week. For events in The School that occur annually, she works on a five-year calendar, “backplanning” the steps that will need to be done – and when – months in advance. The same holds true for events that recur in her family’s life, as well. Her calendar tells her what she needs to do today to assure a stress-free family get-together two months from now.
No detail is too small. Lena suggested to the students that even the icons on their computers should be organized. Files should be named according to subject, topic, date, and even whatever person was involved. Moreover, always back up computer folders on a flash drive or CD. “It saves a lot of potential hassle,” she says. She advised the students to keep the photos on their phone organized, keep their desktop and workspaces free of clutter, and in their living and kitchen areas, “keep like things together.” Even social media can be organized, with professional contacts on Linked In, and personal contacts on Facebook.
Lena says she always travels with a hard-copy “finger-tip file,” containing personal and professional contact names, email and slow mail addresses, and phone numbers. Just in case her phone crashes or technology fails.
For the Big Picture, Lena tells the students to always make room for work, and make room for “me.” Find a way to balance work obligations with personal enjoyment and recharging.
Always self-effacing, Lena was sure to give credit to the many volunteer students who assist her with her School and alumni events. Yet she has to manage this group as well, whose complexion changes nearly every year, depending upon which of her volunteers graduates or goes on internships. When working with volunteers, she offered, “Listen and connect to each one. It’s about building relationships.”
“I have learned a lot about being an effective working woman from Lena,” says student volunteer Anne-Marie Khoury (BA ’14), COO of Destination Auction Sweet Escapes (msualumniauction.webs.com). “Working side by side with her on Destination Auction was a lesson in planning ahead, being aware of small details, treating other board members with respect, and knowing when to step back and get some rest.”
And maybe that’s the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary event planner and family organizer. Despite the juggling, despite the myriad details, despite the long, long hours – Lena seems unflappable, and is well-loved by her student volunteers, the faculty and staff, and of course, the alumni who rely on her so much. In fact, two years ago, five young alumni who had been student leaders in The School established a scholarship in Lena’s name as a way of honoring her and helping other students.
“Hearing from someone who is so capable, and who has so much personal integrity and ability, was inspiring for me,” says Ariel Lessons (BA ’14), who has helped Lena in the office for a number of years and is the Destination Auction Sweet Escapes CEO. “We often get to listen to hospitality industry executives in our classes, but there is really no one more equipped to advise us about organizational skills, event planning, and managing a professional and personal life than Lena.” The School salutes this incredible Superhero.
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