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Get to know the CEO: Melissa Leitzell

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Golden Key is proud to introduce our very own Chief Executive Officer, Melissa Leitzell. Melissa has been working at Golden Key for 13 years. She started working at Golden Key as the Vice President in 2009 and was promoted to CEO in 2019. 

“As a staff member, I’d say what attracted me most to Golden Key was to grow my chapter experience into a regional, national and international one,” Melissa says. “I was thrilled to learn how our chapters collectively work together to make a difference on university campuses around the world, and I absolutely loved the challenge as a non-profit association leader to determine ways to best support them. I tell people daily the international scope of our organization is truly unique. We meet with members, volunteers and leaders morning, noon and night.”

Melissa’s journey with Golden Key started many years ago when she studied at the University of Central Florida. 

“I was a junior at UCF majoring in communications when I got my invitation to join Golden Key,” Melissa explains. “I was also a creature of habit and realized I was only interacting and present on a small portion of our campus. I realized that the society had members from all majors and backgrounds. I knew that they would introduce me to other student organizations, events and more people at the university than I ever would meet on my own. I also appreciated the fact that GK members in the top 15% of their class understood not only the pressure to achieve academically but also the desire to do our absolute best in our undergraduate and graduate careers.”

When asked to pick what she thought was the best benefit of Golden Key, Melissa found it hard to narrow down. 

“I think there are so many benefits of Golden Key,” Melissa shares. “First is the simple fact that GK is a lifetime membership. This means you pay your membership dues when you join, and you get all of the programs and benefits GK offers for the rest of your life. Where else can you get that?”

Melissa is also very proud of the Golden Key Academy website that launched in September 2020.

“I’m also extremely proud of our newest member benefit, the Golden Key Academy, which is our online platform for lifetime personal and professional development,” Melissa reveals. “It has allowed us to engage Golden Key honorary members and global thought leaders to bring incredible learning opportunities for our current student members as well as our alumni members.”

Melissa is extremely grateful, and in awe of everyone that makes Golden Key the organization it is today.

“I have been completely blown away by our chapter advisors, officers and volunteers during the past two years of the COVID-19 global pandemic and all that they have endured,” Melissa remarks. “Our chapter leaders had to deal with challenges on their own university campuses, dealt with switching to a virtual classroom and operational spaces on top of dealing with additional stresses at home and in their day-to-day life. On top of that, they still found time to dedicate to our organization, to our members and our mission. We cannot ask for a better network of volunteers. They really are the lifeblood and backbone of this organization. They make me proud every day.”

If Melissa could offer one piece of advice to new members, it would be to embrace all the different things they can do through Golden Key.

“Get involved,” Melissa encourages. “GK has so many ways to begin your membership in our society. From virtual learning events to chapter activities and service projects. No matter where you are or what level of involvement you are looking for, GK has a way to connect you. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter and check out what our Golden Key Academy has to offer.”

Given Melissa’s seasoned professional experience, she has received plenty of useful advice. But one piece of advice stands out better than the rest. 

“Never say ‘that’s not my job’,” Melissa comments. “You should always contribute, whether or not it is your responsibility – and even if no one is watching. You should do what needs to be done or find a way to help someone else find a solution. Period. I believe the professional growth I’ve experienced in my life has directly come from this simple philosophy. Leaders especially need to demonstrate a willingness to serve their teams in any capacity, no matter how big or small.”

Moreover, Melissa shares her ideas on what makes a great leader.

“I’ve always thought that a great manager/leader shares with team members the big plan AND their role in the success of that plan,” Melissa states. “Great leaders listen to their team and their career aspirations and find ways to support those goals both inside and outside of work.”

Melissa explains what she feels is the best skill to have in life. 

“I believe the only constant in life is change, and therefore I think the best personal/professional skill we can possess is to be agile and embrace change,” Melissa expresses. “If we can apply self-reflection and learning as a constant part of our day-to-day life and control how we react to change (hint: lean in!)I believe it is how we truly grow and evolve. It won’t happen overnight, but I believe this is one of the most valuable skills an individual can possess.”

Melissa is honored to have worked with every one of her coworkers, past and present, but one particular person stands out in her mind.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with and for so many incredible leaders in my career,” Melissa shares. “I was so fortunate to begin my career many years ago with a great mentor and leader, Gert Garman, at the University of Central Florida. Gert is one of the most creative human beings I’ve ever met. Each day she pushed me to define the challenges in front of us, think outside of the box and be willing to do anything, big or small, to support those around you, regardless of your title or position. She is an incredible networker, and she taught me that genuine interactions are the foundation of a strong professional base. I’ve also never laughed as hard as we did when Gert was around. Her sense of humor is unmatched, and I learned never to take myself too seriously. She continues to inspire me today as a business owner of Broad Perspective and applies the philosophy she taught me to her own life. She is currently battling Guillain-Barre syndrome and is sharing her ‘joy in the journey’ despite the challenges she is facing. I’m so blessed to have learned – and continue to learn – from such an incredible person.”

One person who inspires Melissa is GK honorary member Desmond Tutu. “Reverend Tutu was an unbelievable force for anti-apartheid and human rights. I was lucky to hear him speak twice in my life – as well as his daughter. He was a pillar of integrity and equality. His smile, spirit and faith quite literally changed the world.”

Still, Melissa is inspired by much more.

“I am inspired by people who are brave enough to chase their dreams,” Melissa says. “Too often, society tells us who we should be or what we should do, and I’m inspired by those who are willing to dedicate hard work and determination to fulfill their dream.”

When asked about one interesting thing that she thought GK members could read, watch or listen to, Melissa had a particular podcast in mind.

“I’ve just discovered ‘How to Fail with Elizabeth Day’,” Melissa replies. It’s a podcast centered around embracing and learning from failure, and she interviews everyone from athletes to politicians, where they share how failure has shaped their careers. It is fascinating.”

If you are interested in joining Golden Key, we would love you to join Melissa for one of her regular live webinars where she talks about Golden Key, explains the benefits and answers questions. Click here to register for free. 

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