"Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way"

Mar 15, 2022 – Houston's Joelle Berlat to receive Delta Sigma Pi's 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award!

“People should care about Delta Sigma Pi because we’re building business leaders while we’re building ourselves both as business leaders and as people,” explains Joelle Berlat, Houston. Some say it’s become difficult to express emotion through a computer screen, but Joelle’s passion and dedication is almost palpable as she describes, in her own words, what makes Deltasig special. “The fact that we have fun doing it is just a bonus!

Joelle Berlat was raised in Texarkana, Texas, a small twin city with a main drag directly on the border between Texas and Arkansas.

“Texarkana was a town of approximately 50,000 best known for being one of the cities that George Strait had an ‘ex’ in. I actually went to school in a suburb of Texarkana and graduated with 40 people in my class. It was a fairly stereotypical Texas country town – evenings were spent either driving around looking for your friends or sitting out at the lake with a bonfire.”

As she looked forward to her collegiate studies, she realized she would rather go to school in a large city rather than a college town like so many of her childhood friends. From there, she set her sights on the University of Houston and happily never looked back.

During her time at Houston, she had to take a variety of mandatory classes as she worked toward her accounting degree. In those classes, she was recruited to join the Fraternity by Michelle Kologinczak, Houston, who saw potential in her. She hadn’t spent much time considering a fraternity or sorority experience, but the idea of Delta Sigma Pi seemed intriguing.

“Looking back, I probably just didn’t think a fraternity or sorority experience was for me. I lived in the honors dorm and most of my friends before joining Deltasig were the others in my dorm. Deltasig felt like something I belonged in because the people were super friendly and we shared so many common interests.”

One of those common interests is the desire to lead and leadership is fundamental to growth. Delta Sigma Pi has continued to grow and prosper by having leaders who allow young leaders to take a step forward. Berlat served as the president of her collegiate chapter, which prepared her for serving on the Board of Directors.

“The more interesting examples of leadership in my mind are the times we lead by example,” muses Berlat. She has worked in “Big Four” accounting throughout all of her professional career. When she graduated, she worked for Arthur Andersen LLP, a financial holdings company based in Chicago which was formerly one of the “Big Five” accounting firms. Arthur Andersen was one of many companies who closed following the Enron scandal in the early 2000s.

“I was a senior manager which meant I wasn’t running the show, but I was very connected to many of our younger professionals. As you might imagine, it was a really stressful time, and we all had to navigate the process of changing jobs and trying to serve our clients through the madness. Leading at that moment was staying focused and helping the team work together and not lose sight of what was important in all of the press and the chaos. On the Fraternity front, I feel that Jeff [her husband] and I lead by example with the Leadership Foundation, not only because we are able to donate, but because we have both donated our time as a Trustee,” says Joelle. 

“I’m an example of how volunteer opportunities can take different forms,” says Berlat, referring to the early beginnings of her volunteer history with Deltasig. “A lot of people think your only option to be involved is being an RVP or a DD, but I found other ways to continue to be helpful.” Although she never served in a role working directly with collegiate chapters, she’s served as a willing and consistent participant of several different committees. Eventually her innate desire to serve and give back to the Fraternity would lead her to serving on the Fraternity Board of Directors after PGP Kathy Jahnke encouraged her to run for VPF, a role she held from 2003 to 2007.

While looking back on her experience as a volunteer, the time she served on the Board had the most impact on her individually. As a volunteer, you often spend most of your time focusing on day-to-day activities. But she remembers a powerful moment after being elected to the Board where she really got to see the depth this organization had to offer and the impact she was able to make as a volunteer in its purest form.

“One of my favorite memories as a Deltasig was when I was elected to the Board,” Joelle recalls fondly. “If you’ve ever been to a Grand Chapter Congress, we have a tradition we like to do after the national officers are elected. The winners are escorted into the ballroom by the previous people who held that role, and the experience walking back into that ballroom in front of all those people is such a powerful moment and overwhelming experience.”

Another fundamental part of leadership is passing on what you have learned to those who may follow after you. In fact, it’s one of many things that motivates a brother to give back to the Fraternity after their collegiate years. While some people have more time to donate, others choose financial resources as their best opportunity for impact and some have valuable wisdom and experiences to share. But it all begins with reflection and realizing how the Fraternity impacted you for the better and the desire to see those changes reflected in others. 

“Part of serving is developing others, and that means letting them be leaders. Also, there are seasons of life when we aren’t able to devote the bandwidth needed to lead, but we can help execute, and we should. Over the past ten years I’ve really been focused on work and took a break from leadership roles in the Fraternity and other organizations. During that time, I’ve served as members of various provincial committees, volunteered to work tables for the Foundation and as manpower for various other organizations. I’ve been a great doer, and doers are important. Now as a Trustee of the Leadership Foundation, I’m ready to step back up,” says Berlat.

Although Joelle is proud of her time as a Deltasig, there are some opportunities that she wishes she had taken greater advantage. The idea of mentorship has become so formal that she often overlooked the indirect ways that others tried to motivate her to succeed.

“When I was younger, I kept waiting for a formal invitation to either mentor or be mentored,” begins Berlat. She had several mentors of her own throughout her personal and professional life, but the ones she holds close are PGPs Kathy Jahnke, Norm Kromberg and Mitch Simmons – not only as mentors, but as some of her closest friends and confidants as well. “Both as a mentor and as a mentee, I underappreciated the nature of informal mentorship. I pursued a lot of information and I collected a lot of information that should have been passed along to others informally.

If there was a piece of advice, I’d give to my younger self, or younger Deltasigs in general, it is to make sure you’re paying attention to the people who try to impart wisdom onto you.”

A lifetime commitment to servant leadership is one that has its highs, its lows and its plateaus. The crescendo, or the swan song of servant leadership is knowing when to step aside and allow the next generation of leaders to leave their own legacy of impact. This is the moment when you truly know that your job has been done, and been done well.

“Sometimes as a leader, you need to know when it’s time to get out of the way. To me, this means that if you aren’t involved in something in any way, then it often is best to stay out of it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t express an opinion – but do it the right way to the right people. Otherwise you are just impeding the process, and you’ll never know how it would have went without your involvement.”

Joelle currently serves as a Trustee for the Delta Sigma Pi Leadership Foundation and she resides happily in Houston with her husband and Deltasig brother Jeff Berlat, who was initiated at the University of Houston while getting his business degree. Although this was after Joelle had already graduated, they met at various Deltasig functions they both attended. What originally began as a friendship blossomed into a happy marriage.

“I hope that I’m remembered in the history of Delta Sigma Pi as someone who knew when to lead, knew when to follow, and knew when to get out of the way,” says Joelle as she reflects on her impact in an organization that has impacted her in ways she can only to hope to one day find the words to describe.

  • Brothers of Delta Sigma Pi