This year I've been participating in a leadership initiative. Three times I've gone to leadership training at various locations in Illinois.
In April, we met for three days at a conference center in a state park a couple of hours from home. 30 of us gathered and divided ourselves into 5 groups of 6 people. We were assigned two mentors and we laid down ground rules for ourselves and gave ourselves a name.
Before we arrived, we all took the enneagram quiz, to determine what our leadership style was. I tested as an 8, but I really fell that I'm more of a 4. Anyway, the idea is, you first understand yourself, then you can seek to understand others.
We did an exercise in strategic planning and looking at the world around us -- one of those SWOT analysis things. Then we had to put a 5 minute presentation together about the top four challenges facing our profession.
Our group worked very well together. It was somewhat terrifying, standing up in front of a room full of strangers, talking about a subject that I'd only spent a few minutes thinking about. Anyway, we got very positive feedback and our group was feeling pretty good.
In the evenings, two of the mentors would get up and give a talk that was supposed to encourage and motivate us, or teach us something about leadership. Afterwards, a few of us would get together in the bar, but I never really found one really kindred spirit that I could connect with.
I was disappointed in our last day as we began an interesting discussion about values. We were supposed to list some values that were important to us. Mine were things like honesty, integrity, respect and mercy. The others in my group said things like communication, improvement, teamwork, or motivation -- things that I didn't consider to be "values". It was kind of odd. Overall, it was good, but it was feeling superficial yet.
We met again in August at another state park in Southern Illinois. We learned about setting a vision for ourselves and our organizations. We wrote vision statements for our ideal workplaces. I liked this exercise, as I think I have a very clear vision of the organization I would like to create.
That evening, a storm came through and we lost power. We had no air conditioning and there was no emergency backup lighting. We didn't have our usual evening in the bar. Instead, we all got one candle to take back to our rooms. At least I was fortunate enough to have a corner room. I was able to open the windows and get a cross breeze, but it let in several mosquitos the size of owls.
We did one of these group exercises the next afternoon about setting goals, making group decisions, taking risks, etc. We were running mythical branch offices and trying to make money. Our group worked exceptionally well together and we "won" the exercise, making more theoretical money than any other office. We felt pretty good about our victory until the next day we were told by our mentors that the other groups viewed our group as very clique-ish. (Wow, was I in the cool group for once in my life??)
The final morning, like the previous session, we got feedback from our mentors. They pretty much hit the nail on the head when it came to my turn. I was told that I needed to quit holding back when I new the answers. Our one mentor said that he could see it on my face, when I had an insight, but he wondered why I was so unwilling to speak up. It was hard to respond. The truth is, I'm really scared of speaking up. The others in my group always seemed so articulate and when it was my turn to speak, words always seem to fail me. But my group was very supportive. They said I was quite articulate, actually. They respected what I had to say. I left that session feeling good about my action plans, feeling like I was developing my leadership potential.
Our third and final session was just last week, here in the Chicago suburbs. This time, getting back together was like riding a bike. We all just seemed to pick up where we left off. Topics for learning included empowering ourselves and others. We learned strategies for overcoming self-defeating behavior in ourselves and our colleagues.
Then came the bombshell. One more last minute presentation. We were to come up with an innovative idea and sell it to a group of key stakeholders. What should have been an easy process for our group became a struggle. One member of our group was not on board with our idea and even I had doubts about some parts of our presentation. We did a decent job in the end and garnered the praise that we had become accustomed to, but only our mentor knew the pain that we went through to get there. One one level, it felt like a failure, because the process was not what it should have been. Of course, the day after the exercise, I thought of the perfect, most convicing arguments for our presentation, but by then it was too late. I guess I can't really think on my feet. How does one learn that ability?
Our last night, instead of the usual mentor presentation, each of the groups gave a final "celebration" presentation. The only criteria were that every member of each group participate, and that we celebrate our experiences.
Our group elected to go last, which worked out just great. I even got the last line, which was a great play on words that came to me during the final mentor presentation the previous evening.
The final morning we were together, I felt really confident. I had great ideas for my action plan-- big ideas about how I could improve myself professionally, improve my library and contribute to my profession as a whole.
However, like many mountaintop experiences, once I left the conference, I really crashed. Well, I was tired from the whole thing, but it was more than just being tired.
On my way home, I had to stop and get one of my tires fixed, as I noticed it had a nail in it. As I sat in the automotive repair waiting room, I was suddenly overcome by paralyzing fear. What had I committed to? Why had I listed such lofty goals? What was I thinking? Here I was supposed to be this newly energized leader, but I was unable to move, unable to speak, unable to think.
I made it through the next day at work by keeping to all the mundane tasks that make the day go by quickly. But I did take some time to explore the opportunites for accomplishing some of my new goals. Ironically, some opportunities have come up that are perfectly aligned with my goals. I'm still terrified, but there are deadlines rapidly approaching and the deadline may be the thing that motivates me to take action instead of paralyzing me.
I realize that's probably vague, and it is vague for a reason. I can't risk giving away too much information about the program, as we are asked to keep much of what occurs there as confidential. All I can say is that I'm not the same person I was when I entered the program. The good thing is that it doesn't have to end here.
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