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Ride or Die: Leadership:

Ride or Die: Leadership By Samantha Brooks



My Leadership Inspiration: Dominic “Dom” Toretto:

My Leadership Inspiration: Dominic “Dom” Toretto Dominic Toretto is one of the main characters of the Fast & the Furious franchise. He used to own a garage in LA with his sister Mia, but after a few run-ins with the law, he became a fugitive. Known for being ruthlessly loyal, committed to his family (both blood-related and not), and the unofficial leader of his team, Dom enacts many of the values I seek to have as a leader. In this presentation, I use many examples from the franchise to explain my views on leadership.

“He’s like gravity; everything gets pulled to him.” - Mia Toretto:

“He’s like gravity; everything gets pulled to him.” - Mia Toretto I   fall somewhere in between believing that there must be a single leader, a head of the team, and believing in team-directed leadership. I think that there are some people who are able to see things others can’t, a Synthesizer of sorts. That person is excellent at making meaning, reflecting on group dynamics, and making tough decisions that others can’t. On the other hand, I also believe in maximizing the strength of your group, and using them to move the team in a direction that fits with the beliefs and values of your organization. Leadership is a balance between the head of the organization, and the self-direction of the t eam.


Comparison For me personally, Komives , Lucas & McMahon’s Relational Leadership is the closest model to displaying what my leadership beliefs are. There are established leaders in an organization (because “power is a natural part of most settings” (Roberts, 2007, p. 60), but it is the job of the leaders to be inclusive, empowering, purposeful, ethical, and process-oriented with their collaborators.

“He’s like gravity; everything gets pulled to him.” - Mia Toretto:

“He’s like gravity; everything gets pulled to him.” - Mia Toretto Toretto is an excellent example of this. Although he is never explicitly stated as the head of the team, others look to him for direction and he is able to think far enough ahead to pull plans together for his team’s success. He sees the strength in his team members, and knows how to combine a team that is unbeatable. He makes tough decisions that others want to deny are inevitable, like leaving his girlfriend behind to preserve her long-term safety and that of their family. At the same time, he never overrides any of his teammates, and remembers why he brought them on in the first place – because they know how to do things and think in ways that he can’t. Leadership is a balance between the head of the organization, and the self-direction of the t eam.

My Philosophy:

My Philosophy “Ride or Die” is a phrase that originated from within the motorcycle culture that indicates a mindset that loyalty to an individual or organization is more important to someone than their personal convenience. It can be an expression of solidarity, and is a generally used to describe a dedication or a commitment to something or someone. For me, “ride or die” means loyalty. Loyalty to yourself, your roots, your team, your allies, and your guiding principles. These three words inform how I make sense of where I came from in the past, how I make decisions every day in the present, and how I want to commit myself to success in the future.


Loyalty Denny Roberts defines leadership as “conviction in action” (2007). For me, one way conviction shows itself is through loyalty. I  believe that you don’t leave your team. By setting clear expectations, by being transparent about why the work they do is important, you will get what you expect out of others. As long as they putting in their all, you stand by your team, and you defend them, even when they mess up. For a leader to succeed, they must have loyalty, above all other qualities.

Loyalty: To Your Roots:

Loyalty: To Your Roots   Leaders are made, not born. The experiences of where you came from are significant. “Humans engage with their world and make sense of it based on hteir historical and social perspectives – we are all born into a world of meaning bestowed upon us by our culture.” - Crotty (1998) as cited in Creswell (2014) I   assume that great leaders are made, not born. People are culminations of their experiences. You can put anyone into a leadership position, and there is a way for them to strengthen or create qualities in themselves that will make them a great leader. For some, the capacity to lead is more natural than others, but there is not one way to lead, nor is there one way to develop that leadership potential. To say that there is only one way to lead strips us of the ability to have different kind of leaders, people from different backgrounds, with different patterns of development.

Loyalty: To Your Roots:

Loyalty: To Your Roots In Fast Five (2011), Dominic has a conversation with father-to-be Brian O’Conner, in which he discusses his father and the principle upon which he based the availability of Sunday Dinner: “No church, no barbecue.” This seemingly simple detail of his history bespeaks to something deeper; Toretto’s character has always enacted this value. If your morals fit in according to the team’s morals, you can reap the benefits. Remembering his roots is how Toretto keeps his team close, by never deviating from his standard. When his childhood friend Vince is dishonest with him earlier in the film, he tells him to “get out.” Regardless of how long he has known Vince, his moral still set the standard. Anyone who isn’t in line with his morals does not get to reap the benefits of being on the Team.

Loyalty: To Your Roots:

Loyalty: To Your Roots Present Actions Growing up in South Florida, I have a personal commitment to multiculturalism and a high tolerance for difference, which means that my team often hears about issues of diversity more often than someone who maybe doesn’t have that background (Putnam, 2007). I am able to connect easily with students and staff who do not identify solely as American, if at all. My family was very big on owning your mistakes and not blaming others. Because I was constantly made to identify my own role in things going badly, I don’t find it difficult to own my professional mistakes, and I don’t find it hard to apologize to my staff when I make a mistake. Future Actions Having had a multicultural upbringing, I want to further address issues of identity with my staff by providing them with a perspective of someone who grappled with the idea of having privilege. Although my family is from New York, and I was born in SoFlo , I also spent a lot of time being raised in the South, and I learned the importance of relationships and the power of being nice to others. I want to use my natural ability to form tight relationships to create strong bonds between my building and other important offices on campus (Allen & Cherrey , 2000).

Loyalty: To Your Principles:

Loyalty: To Your Principles I believe in the marriage of personal and professional principles, and sticking to your own code. It’s no secret that, when I am being led, my personal relationships with bosses and coworkers have to be strong for me to maximize the experience I am getting. Authenticity is a form of loyalty. You stay loyal to your principles and to yourself, to the rules that you govern yourself with. You stick to your principles, your “code.” You don’t compromise what you feel is right for what someone else is telling you to do. You lead from the trenches, do not ask of others what you would not willingly do.

Loyalty: To Your Principles:

Loyalty: To Your Principles “One thing I learned from Dom is that nothing really matters unless you have a code.” In this scene from Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious (2009), Brian O’Conner admits that his principles are something that he is working on, but that he was inspired by Dom’s strong character. He tells Dom’s sister Mia the above quote, showing insight into the fact that he knows what motivates Dominic Toretto : his personal set of values. One of Dom’s assets as a leader is that he does not deviate from those morals.

Loyalty: To Your Principles:

Loyalty: To Your Principles Present Actions Like Brian O’Conner’s character does in almost every film, I often find myself wondering if what my department does lines up with what my personal values are. I’ve been very particular with the departments that I choose to align myself with, because I can’t work somewhere where I can’t be true to my values. One of my values is integrity, and the strength of character. In the Office of Residence Life, depending on your Assistant Director, the tasks you are asked to do may vary, with some Ads being more “by the book” than others. Despite the fact that my AD doesn’t personally check whether my work is being done, it is a sense of integrity that makes sure I’m living up to standards. Future Actions In EDL 676, we discussed what happens when a student affairs practitioner’s values differ with that of the institution, a common conflict ( Schuh et. al., 2011). For me, I articulated that, although I identify as a Catholic, I could never work for an institution that didn’t support LGBTQ rights and women’s rights by actively providing information about birth control and abortions. In the future, I would like to reclaim my assertion that leading from the trenches is my style. I want to do bulletin boards and run programs in my hall so that my RAs know that I understand what I am asking of them, and so that way they have a real life example of the quality I expect.

Loyalty: To Your Allies:

Loyalty: To Your Allies I believe that initiatives and efforts will fail without collaboration between organizations, leaders, and teams. I also believe in respecting longstanding relationships, even if they aren’t always the most convenient or healthy. Relationships are organic, and they grow over time, sometimes in positive ways and sometimes in negative ways, but there has to be an acknowledgment of partnerships that were, at one time, beneficial. I believe in respecting your allies, but when it comes time to form new relationships and evaluate old ones, a good leader should be humble enough to remember who supported them in the beginning. If an old relationship has to be terminated, it is essential to do it with grace. Student affairs is a small field, and burning bridges is not a practice that is encouraged if one hopes to have a long career. Dom and his best friend from the 3 rd grade, Vince

Loyalty: To Your Allies:

Loyalty: To Your Allies Five years after The Fast and the Furious (2001), the team meets up with Dom’s childhood best friend Vince in Rio de Janeiro in Fast & Furious (2009). After it is revealed that Vince knew about an event that almost killed Dom’s sister, Dom casts Vince out. However, later in the movie, Vince saves Dom’s sister from antagonist Reyes’ henchmen, proving that he is still loyal to the Toretto family. Dom doesn’t usually trust strangers so easily, but he is unable to hide the fact that his loyalty to Vince hasn’t waned. There’s something to be said for the longevity of friendships, even if they aren’t perfect.

Loyalty: To Your Allies:

Loyalty: To Your Allies Present Actions Part of being a leaders is respecting the partnerships that exist with your organization. Like it or not, the HOME Office and Office of Residence Life are not one and the same. When my RAs complain about residents being moved into their corridors without prior notice, I find myself defending the HOME office, out of solidarity for that partnership. In my prior work with Duke TIP, I’ve worked on four separate campuses. Each campus has a unique relationship with the housing office there, and it can be hard to realize that I and my program are guests on their turf. I understand that, like it or not, that campus liaison and I have to get along, because our organizations have a partnership that I need to respect. Future Actions “If we underestimated the connections in a networked world, it would be like making decisions with only 10% of the information when actually 100% of the information is available” (Allen & Cherrey , 2000). Working in a sorority hall, I want to revive the meaningful partnerships my LLC once had, namely with the women’s center and the women’s health clinic in Student Health Services, and continue to strengthen our relationship with the counseling center and the career center. These offices are, like ORL, committed to student health and success, and I would like to invite them into our space to collaborate.

Loyalty: To Your Vision:

Loyalty: To Your Vision I believe that leaders have the ability to think ahead of, behind, and around the situation they are in. They should be able to simultaneously see what has led them to this point, where they need to go from here (both long-term and short term) and identify factors that influence the position where they happen to be right now. Vision, and ability to think beyond one’s own place is a necessary quality in a leader. Simultaneously, it is one’s responsibility as a leader to make that vision a reality and inspire others to see the vision too. Pictured below: planning the heist in Rio

Loyalty: To Your Vision:

Loyalty: To Your Vision In the buddy relationship that Dom and Brian have, Dom is almost always the one to see the bigger picture, part of what makes him the natural leader of the team. After looking at his pregnant girlfriend sleeping in the next room, Brian asserts that he needs to get out of this fugitive lifestyle. Dom reacts almost immediately with a plan. He paints a picture for Brian, who catches on and responds passionately with his support of the vision. Dom realizes that he’s lost his ex-girlfriend (in Fast & Furious (2009)), and he is not about to lose his unborn nephew, his sister (Brian’s girlfriend). He knows how much his family has been through, and although he is fine living as a fugitive, he knows that it is time to take the next step for his family’s safety.

Loyalty: To Your Vision:

Loyalty: To Your Vision Present Actions During RA training, I broke a strong vision statement into 5 key qualities and gave a quality to each RA. They wrote part of the statement based on the quality, and we constructed a vision statement together based on those. When I worked for Duke TIP, my staff would make fun of me because I was never without my handbook. Whenever there was a conduct situation to be handled, a policy to create, or a conversation to be had, I was constantly referring back to our community standards, and the ideals of our organization that had been entrusted to me to uphold. Future Actions Research has shown that aligning the mission of an organization with engagement efforts tends to be more effective overall ( Kezar & Kinzie , 2006). Keeping this in mind, I would like to reevaluate our mission and vision of the hall and the leadership team to see if we are aligning our programming and our vision. I also want to consider the I am Miami campaign to see where it fits into the Sorority LLC community, if at all. We never talked about it after training, and I can’t help but wonder if it could be a strong moral compass to be used within my community.

Loyalty: To Your Team:

Loyalty: To Your Team I assume that leaders care about people. I come from a background that leans heavily on ethics, character, and making the right choices even when other people are not around. A leader is not a leader without followers. I assume that leaders care about the people they are leading, or else they wouldn’t go through the challenges of being in a leadership position in the first place. As a leader, the people who support you are your greatest asset. I believe that by strengthening your foundation, the people who do the hardest work, you create an unshakable construction. Your greatest investment is in your relationship with your team. Above: Dom saving girlfriend Letty from a job gone wrong.

Loyalty: To Your Team:

Loyalty: To Your Team Dom is always good at keeping his team together, through good times and bad. In Fast & Furious 6 (2013), they come together incredibly fast, leaving behind their own lives to come help him out. He remembers to celebrate when things are good, and helps to remind his team why they love each other. In the scene above, his sister Mia has just announced that she is pregnant, and Dom is toasting to his family, reminding them that the best thing their team has is each other. “The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room.” – Dom Toretto

Loyalty: To Your Team:

Loyalty: To Your Team Present Actions This semester, I dealt with a situation where Miami University’s lawyer wanted me to fire one of my staff members because of a mistake she made. However, I know this staff member better than anyone above my position does, and I knew her character. Despite the mistake she made, I defended her to a few levels of authority, and kept her on my team. I fully believe in handling issues in-house. At Duke TIP, there was one summer where I had a supervisor who was notorious for bullying and harassing my staff. I spent the entire summer placing myself in between him and them, making sure they were as far away from his unpleasant mannerisms and behavior as possible. Future Actions In the future, I want to show loyalty to my team by making closer connections with residents and making sure my positive feelings about my staff are conveyed to the residents. I like to be liberal with praise, when it is deserved. It fits well with my support-and-challenge practice, because my staff know that I want them to succeed and I think well of them. In another way, the women of my hall are my team as well, and it wouldn’t be the first time I have defended the sorority community against ignorant beliefs. I want to be actively creating positive press about my community to show other people that there are good, healthy things coming out of the Greek community, despite the party-hard reputation.


Commitment I   believe that it is the responsibility of the leader to identify strengths among people, even when and especially when the people you are working with cannot see their strengths themselves. It is your job to empower others to make change, to do good work. You help them to see the vision you see, to give context as to why we are making the decisions we are making.


Commitment Loyalty to a cause takes the form of another valued trait: commitment. For leaders to show commitment, they need to do three things: Identify the strengths of the team Utilize the strengths to meet needs of a situation Empower others to use their strengths

Identify & Utilize:

Identify & Utilize 1. Identify the Strengths A leader’s job is to objectively look at an individual and see what it is they are contributing to the team dynamic, whether it be a positive or a negative quality. Some strengths are more subtle, or may only be situational. A good leader should be able to justify why someone is taking up space on their team. 2. Utilize the Strengths As mentioned in “Loyalty: To Your Vision,” one of a leader’s best qualities is to be able to see the most complete view of a situation. A skilled leader should be able to identify the needs of a situation and figure out how to best use the strengths of their team to meet the needs.

How to Build a Team:

How to Build a Team In the scene above from Fast Five (2011), Toretto and Brian outline exactly what the needs of the situation call for. They tap into their network, identify people who have the strengths they need, and call upon those people to utilize those strengths in order to achieve a goal (in this case, stealing $100 million dollars from a drug lord). Heist situations of all kinds use this model to accomplish their goals (see the Ocean’s franchise, The Italian Job , The A-Team , etc.)

Empower Others:

Empower Others The third act of commitment that a leader can display is that of empowering others. In Greenleaf’s notion servant leadership (Roberts, 2007), characteristics of a leader include having a sense of agency, a dream in which to include others, and unconditional acceptance and empathy (while perhaps expecting more out of a follower because of it), and the ability to see what others have not with the aid of sharp intuition. It is these traits that a leader should have when they go about empowering others. The should feel the need to empower others, have a dream to share with them (so they feel the need to empower themselves), accept their followers for who they are and where they are coming from, set reasonably high expectations, and have faith that the individual has the capacity to develop into a stronger force.

Mechanical Intelligence:

Mechanical Intelligence One of the most fascinating characters in The Fast and the Furious (2001) is Jesse, a gifted mechanic who failed in the traditional education system. Brian finds out that he was accepted into Toretto’s team a long time ago, and found comfort among people who understood him, other “ gearheads .”

“I got that…what’s it called…that attention disorder…” -Jesse:

“I got that…what’s it called…that attention disorder…” -Jesse What better example of multiple intelligences than Jesse? As listed in Smith (2008), and judging on Jesse’s assertion that he did well in math classes, it could be assumed that he had strong logical-mathematical intelligence, able to “detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically” (p. 4). Since mechanics is also a very hands-on field, it’s possible that he was also bodily-kinesthetically intelligent. In addition to the specialized intelligence, Jesse self-discloses his learning disability. As student affairs professionals, we run into students with specialized intelligences and learning disorders every day, students who slip through the crack of the traditional education system. Toretto empowers Jesse by supporting an environment and a community where Jesse’s differences are celebrated and encouraged.

Identify, Utilize & Empower:

Identify, Utilize & Empower Present Actions When choosing extra assignments for my RAs in my hall, I made sure to think about their strengths when assigning them (making the Pinterest addict in charge of our social media, for example). At Duke TIP, I realized that there were some seriously talented people that were not in charge of any of the initiatives we had happening. The following term, I strongly encouraged them to apply to head the committees I thought they would be best suited for…including an RA who had a special talent for performances, and he ended up putting on the best lip sync competition my campus had ever seen. He never would have taken that role himself, but I was excited to see what he was going to do with the responsibility. Future Actions In our one-on-ones last week, something my staff and I talked about involved them identifying what they were skilled at, and how they could bring that skill to the hall (for example, helping an RA realize that she could connect with her out-of-touch hall by using a newsletter to communicate her unique knowledge in regards to organization and multitasking, skills my students desperately need). I want to do more of this next semester. In addition, I have a team that plays really well on each other’s strengths. Instead of having them develop programming separately, like I have been, I want them to develop hall programming together, and create successful initiatives together, using each other’s skills.

In Conclusion:

In Conclusion Dominic Toretto’s “ride or die” outlook is indicative of the loyalty and commitment that my leadership philosophy is based on. My perspective manifests itself through : 1) Loyalty to one’s roots, principles, allies, vision and team and 2) Commitment to identify, utilize and empower others By enacting these two main qualities, I remain loyal to and make a commitment to believing in my own success and that of my team and organization. As a leader, I can think of nothing more valuable.


Resources Allen, K. E., & Cherrey , C. (2000). Systemic leadership: Enriching the meaning of our work . Lanham, MD.: University Press of America. Cohen, R. (Director). (2001). The fast and the furious [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures. Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. Kezar , A. J., & Kinzie , J. L. (2006). Examining the ways institutions create student engagement: The role of mission. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 149-172. DOI: 10.1353/csd.2006.0018 Lin, J. (Director). (2009). Fast & furious [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Lin, J. (Director). (2011). Fast five [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Lin, J. (Director). (2013). Fast & furious 6 [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Putnam, R. D. (2007). E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and community in the twenty-first century. Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2), 137-174. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x. Roberts, D. C. (2007). Deeper learning in leadership: helping college students find the potential within . San Francisco, CA: Jossey -Bass. Schuh , J. H., Jones, S. R., Harper, S. R., & Komives , S. R. (2011). Organizational Theory. Student services: a handbook for the profession. (5th ed., p. 237). San Francisco: Jossey -Bass.

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