May 2016

May 2016

Updated by
David Whitesock

What stands out to you/has surprised you about your leadership development through the Fellowship to date? 

Upon graduating from the University of South Dakota, a professor whom I had only periodically encountered, never took a class from, but had deep respect for, emailed two quotes and a short note of encouragement for the next stage of my education and/or life. 

One of the quotes stuck out at the time and was greatly motivating and uncannily appropriate to the circumstances of my life. Over the next five years after receiving this quote, attending law school, then entering into the work I do now with Face It TOGETHER, the quote took a back seat. But since being awarded the Fellowship and expanding my leadership roles, the quote has become a key mantra both internally and externally. 

The quote… 

“Nothing is easy; nothing does itself. Character and action are everything.” – Washington A. Roebling.

The internal application of this quote as a mantra is quite perfect. Surviving addiction is the most challenging struggle of my life. The adversity to overcome a complex illness like addiction simply require more than blind faith and hope, one must engage fully with a direct purpose to manage the symptoms of the disease and often do what may have seemed impossible.

The external application of this quote has become something more than a mantra. It has helped me identify the style of leader that I am and am becoming.

One of my mentors is fond of saying, “I want everyone to weigh in before I give my thoughts; I do not want to taint or apply a chilling effect on the process.” Until recently, my role has been to be a fierce voice, weighing in early and with authority. It has been my job – and I’ve relished the role – to dig deep into an issue and emerge as an evangelist either for or against a position, tactic, strategy, etc. It was never assumed, nor was it my intention to present the “right” answer, but an answer built on a strong foundation and subject to considerable scrutiny. While there are times for me to engage as an evangelist, more and more I am leading a smart team who have taken a deep dive into an issue and are evangelizing to me a particular direction. Thus, what has stood out for me in my leadership development is how I am responding or reacting to the process of change as a leader.

For really the first time, in my development as a leader, it is me holding back, letting all others weigh in, so that my preconceived thoughts do not apply a chilling effect or encumber the process of discernment by the team.

Additionally, I’ve learned more about how the outside world might view me as a leader, and what that means for my deliberate process of building and strengthening my leadership skills. Case in point, the Fellowship was meant to provide me with the opportunity or opportunities to attend an executive education program from a top academic institution. I had my sights set on a handful. A couple I simply could not apply for due to work commitments than conflicted with the program’s schedule. After consultation with my mentor, applications were prepared and submitted. The two programs I had the greatest desire attending both rejected me. 

I was not naïve about my chances of getting into these programs. These were a-list executive education programs at Oxford and Stanford. What I did fully appreciate until after being rejected was exactly what the programs were looking for in attendees and how I compared to their model attendee. Feedback from the program directors indicated very clearly – in their view – that while accomplished as a leader, I lacked a certain level of experience, especially in direct managerial roles or in a corporate environment. The program director for a program at Stanford said frankly that a program that focused on management or the nuts and bolts of leadership might not be right for me at this stage in my development. Her recommendation was to find programs that were more personal, more introspective. 

Ironically, my mentor had suggested putting various programs I was interested in into three buckets: Leadership Models, Personal Leadership Growth, and Supplemental.

What I’m learning is that despite having applied significant time over the last decade to personal inspection and growth, it was not necessarily in the context of leadership styles and skills. Thus, that is where I intend to concentrate my attention during the final year of the Fellowship. 

There are levels of leadership and stages in the process of learning leadership. I’m more comfortable with that process and where I am in that process. Nothing is easy and nothing does itself – I’ll continue to live this mantra through the Fellowship and beyond.