November 2016

November 2016

Updated by
Elena Gaarder

Guiding questions: How has your understanding of your own leadership changed through the fellowship to date? How do you view the role of self –care in sustaining your ability to lead?

“These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that despite the powers and principalities bent on commodifying all human relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew.” Grace Lee Boggs

What is true about human experience, I have found, is that uncertainty is the constant. This election is one sobering example among many. It is no surprise that the presidential election has amplified violence against people of color, new Americans, the LGBTQ community and women. It has certainly led me to reflect on the significant implications—the uncertainty—for my immediate environment, and for myself. Events like this and others- the murder of Philando Castile, the desecration of sacred sites at Standing Rock, the Stanford rapist getting six months in jail, call us all to take an introspective look at our values, our beliefs, and most importantly how we choose to act in the world.

 I am thankful that the fellowship has led me to a place where I can stand resolute in the face of this challenge. The fellowship gave me the space to redefine what leadership means.  I used to believe it was about a certain set of skills and credentials. And if I could just go spend 8 days at Harvard somehow I would come back just a little more “qualified” to have that fancy job title and a seat at whatever table I please. The lessons coming out of my fellowship paint a whole different picture—I had the frame all wrong. The privilege of my perspective directed me to a false focus—it had me fixated on positional power. While it isn’t wrong to aspire to reach new heights in your career, fighting the roots of hatred takes leadership in its broadest and most variegated forms.   

Since beginning the fellowship, I’ve had the benefit of multiple learning experiences with leaders across the country and internationally, all of which have changed my views in powerful ways.  Leadership looked like people with vastly different skills sets, job titles and methods of approaching systems change. Some doing the work quietly, some using raised voices to challenge injustice. Some leading organizations, some engaged in the pursuit of new models to humanize the economy. Looking around, I began to see different faces of leadership. I began looking at myself more closely.

At the mid-point of the fellowship, I landed on a formal program based on this new interpretation. In May of 2016, I attended the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s “ Art of Leadership,” which uses a social justice framework to convey what they believe are the six practices of effective leaders. The program created space to explore the art and practice of leadership, but more importantly the space for self-reflection.  It was at this point that it sunk in how leadership is a very personal journey.

Interestingly, it has been when I am the most uncomfortable, including certain times during my learning experiences, that I discover the most about myself. I struggle with uncertainty. I struggle with not being in control of my environment. I struggle when I don’t feel like I can use my voice.

Fortunately, the fellowship has given me the space-and the resources, to explore these personal struggles. Carving out the space to do this work has been a challenge, but I’ve found that by focusing on self-care and wellness, the much needed internal conversation goes more smoothly. For me this looks like working towards alignment of the mind, body and spirit. Getting clarity through mindfulness practice, journaling, acupuncture and exercise have been transformational in my leadership journey. It is amazing how just returning to my breath has allowed me to pace myself and make changes to how I show up in the work.

Like Grace Lee Boggs says, we must each use the power within ourselves to create change.  Going forward, I am embracing the power that exists within me to face the uncertain and be a strong leader.