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Michael turns the experience of being ‘sideswiped’ into a workplace coaching manual.

For Leoni (Arendse) Michael (WC ’93), November 10, 2023, easily could have been one of the worst days of her life. 

For years, Michael worked her way up to Director of Learning and Development at a major corporation.

“I remember asking the CEO of this company, ‘What do you want this company to look like in the next 10 or 20 years,” said Michael, who married Jeff Michael (WC ‘92) and has three adult children, McKenzie (23), Ethan (22) and Madison (19). “He said to me, ‘I want you to keep doing what you’re doing because it’s making an impact.’”

Then, on Nov. 10, 2023, Michael was “sideswiped” when she was told her company would eliminate her position.

She was devastated. Then she hit the reset button.

In 15 days, Michael wrote the book Bridge the Gap, Lead the Pack: 5 Bullet-Proof Ways to Connect and Lead Multi-Generations in the Workplace. Her book is designed to help managers and companies navigate the ever-changing workplace landscape.

Michael had wanted to write a book for seven years but never had the opportunity.

“I am a jack of all trades but a master of leadership,” said Michael, who is moving from Fort Worth, Texas, to South Carolina. “I know how to build great relationships with people, love them genuinely and authentically, and connect them with whatever they need.”

Michael labored 13-15 hours a day writing for over two weeks, prayed over the manuscript for another three days, and re-read it for two more days. “It was a very productive time in my life,” said Michael, who recently started a consulting business helping organizational leadership bridge the generational communication gap to improve employee engagement and retention and improve workplace culture.

The book has sold over 2,300 copies since its April 3 release date and received a 4.6 out of 5 stars on Readers remarked how effortlessly the book made seemingly complicated concepts, such as personality assessments, focusing on a person’s strengths instead of their weaknesses, authentic recognition, radical respect, and team building, easy to grasp. The author provided space for readers to answer questions and reflect on their reading.

One of Michael’s goals in writing the book was to bridge a generational gap among Baby Boomers, Gen X members, Gen Z, and Millennials. The older generation distrusts what seems to be a lack of work ethic among their younger peers.

Michael explains that it is not a lack of effort but a difference in motivation.

“The next generation of workers are looking for a purpose and hope,” she said. “They are not like Gen X or Baby Boomers, where all we want from our careers is longevity. That group worked overtime and wanted to prove themselves.

“Millennials saw their parents fight to get to the top, only to find there were only so many seats at the top. (Many feel like) my parents missed out on ball games and X, Y, and Z while chasing after that position they never got. They want a work/life balance.”

If life has taught Michael one thing, it has been the power of the reset button. When she was 14, her parents fled from Apartheid-torn South Africa to the United States.

“I remember hearing people shouting in Afrikaans, ‘Run, run, run!’ because we were being tear-gassed out of school,” she said. “I didn’t know why I was running, but I ran and jumped fences with my friends to get to the nearest home.”

Things weren’t much better when they arrived in the United States. She remembered her mother begging for food at the airport so she could feed her family during the trip to Columbus. After arriving in Worthington, her parents found work helping at Grace Brethren Church, which allowed her brothers and sisters to attend Worthington Christian.

After high school, Michael kept reinventing herself. First, she earned a cosmetology license and worked in retail management for The Limited and Charles Penzone. Then she received a nursing degree from Columbus State Community College and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Phoenix. When the family moved to Texas, she picked up a real estate license and started her own business for 17 years.  After that, she began working in training and development at American Airlines, a company she told her mother that she would run one day when she was growing up.

Life turned again when Michael’s oldest daughter, McKenzie, attended Dallas Baptist University. During freshman day, McKenzie ran into DBU president Adam Wright.

“He asked her about her parents, and she said, ‘My mom is the smartest woman ever. You need to meet her someday because she will change your life,’” Michael said. “The next day, Wright sent me an email, which read, ‘I apparently need to meet you.’”

Asked if she was surprised by the meeting, Michael laughed. “The one thing I know is God is not random,” she said.

Although Michael had no plans on leaving American Airlines, the president made her, to quote The Godfather, an offer she couldn’t refuse. If she worked at the university, the school would pay for McKenzie’s and any of her siblings’ tuition and Michael’s education if she decided to continue her education.

“I felt like I was living in heaven on Earth,” said Michael, who earned a master’s degree in human resource management from DBU and currently working on a Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology at Liberty University. “I loved what I was doing: praying with young students and helping them figure out what they would do with their lives.

“Students would come into the office and go, ‘Mrs. Michael, what am I going to do with my life?’ I’d calm them down and say, ‘Just figure out what you will do tomorrow.’ I really love coaching, empowering, and inspiring this younger generation.”

Perhaps Michael’s desire to help young people came from her own start in this country. Michael recalls a rocky transition at first.

“We were from a small country dealing with Apartheid where we couldn’t even talk with white people,” she said. “All of a sudden, we’re in a predominantly white school. I made it my goal never to let anyone make me feel unseen and inferior in my lifetime.”

Michael remembered the kindness of the pastors and teachers at the school, but a simple act of kindness made a lasting impact on her.

Bette Jungeberg, a parent whose sons attended Worthington Christian, befriended her and offered to buy her a dress for an eighth-grade formal. Michael asked Jungeberg if she could buy her an outfit for the first day of high school instead of doing something so extravagant.

Michael wore that outfit on her first day of school when she met her future husband. Earlier this year, Michael tracked down Jungeberg through social media to thank her.

“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe someone would do that for me,” she said. “She didn’t know what I was going through until I told her (when the two reconnected). She said, ‘From the brief moment I met you, you always seemed so happy.’”

Perhaps beyond that smile was the power of the reset button.

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