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Members In the News, NSLS Member Spotlight, NSLS Success Stories, Leadership Development

Versatile Leader Recognized for Decades of Service

NSLS member Thurston Smith was recognized in our July 2021 Members in the News and again in our 2021 Year in Review. He made impressive headlines last year, which he earned after decades of service, leadership, and hard work.

The Capella University chapter member was given the Presidential Service Award for Exceptional Service, which honors individuals whose service positively impacts communities in every corner of the nation and inspires those around them to take action. He earned this prestigious honor through his service as a Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) member for the U.S. Treasury Department.

He was also given the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) Mel Schulstad Professional of the Year Award for his extensive background in the health and human services industry. This award recognizes individuals who make sustained contributions to the advancement of the addiction counseling profession on a national level. This comes after a decorated career with the Veterans Health Administration and years advocating for change in the healthcare industry. 

Thurston is also an associate minister and has organized educational workshops and seminars. He was also chosen by the Biden/Harris Presidential Inauguration Committee to host a public forum commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.'s National Day of Service.

How does a man wearing so many different leadership hats do it? In his own words, "Stay humble and don't quit." 

The Pursuit of Great Leadership Never Ends

Thurston’s persistence and determination is a lesson for everyone. He attributes his continuous and constant approach to service as a key contributor for why he was given such high accolades.

Inspirational figures who encouraged his sustained excellence include Reverend Dr. Frank E. Ray, Sr. and U.S. Congressman James Clyburn. When asked why these figures inspire him, Thurston said, “Their humility, concern for the well-being of others, integrity, expertise, and their ability to lead.”

As for what it means to be a great leader, he said, "The ability to accomplish important things while inspiring others to be their very best." To be his best, he credits that to one word: Service. Quoting former US Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, he said, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”

Thurston aligns with NSLS values in many ways. We've recently highlighted servant leadership as an empathetic and effective way to lead others. Without service and community-building, one's leadership duties are simply not fulfilled. Thurston truly embodies the NSLS mission of building leaders who make a better world.

Thurston's Advice for Future Leaders

If he were to give practical advice to an aspiring leader, he said, “Study, plan, and execute.” With education and a clear goal, the execution becomes a step-by-step process. That's why setting SMART goals and carving out your path to success is so important.  

Thurston's level-headed planning provided a blueprint for his success. It's a great lesson in goal-setting. To get to the top of the mountain, you need to take one step at a time. 

Even though he's a longtime leader with decades of experience behind him, there's no stopping Thurston from continuing to grow and to accomplish all of the goals he still has. 

“I'm currently pursuing a doctoral degree in ministry with emphasis in social justice and wellness, and I’m working on a variety of policy-oriented health and human services projects, including work throughout the faith-based community. I intend to achieve these through research, prayer, coalition-building, writing, and other hands-on activities.”

Thurston is a great example of how the pursuit of knowledge never ends. Through education and goal-setting, you will always continue to grow as a leader. 

Watch Thurston's inspiring message to the NSLS community below: 

Ready to start setting goals for your future? Read Meet PACT: A Goal-Setting Technique to learn how to continually build upon your goals and sustain success.