My journey to becoming a leader began when I was 21 years of age with no formal experience, no formal training or mentoring in the art of leadership. Since then, I have always found myself in roles where I was the leader – the boss. For many, that might be an exciting prospect but if I am being honest with myself, I do wonder how different (or better) I might be if I had a mentor or role model to show me the way. Sometimes when I reflect back on those early years I cringe because I was so young, had so much responsibility and of course I wondered how my leadership was perceived. I didn’t want to fail, let anyone down, or make a poor decision so questioning and challenging myself became a habit. I developed my leadership skills during the time and space I was in - leadership on the fly. As I reflect on those early years, I realize I knew so little……
Now, as a Bush Fellow, I have been challenged to grow myself my leadership capacity and it’s been an enlightening experience. The experiences I have accessed thus far, because of my Fellowship, have been intense learning opportunities. Whether these experiences came in the form of formal workshops, leadership retreats, or culturally based events, I feel both grateful and overwhelmed at the amount of information that I am absorbing. As a trial by fire leader, it was fascinating and also validating, to realize that I am probably a better leader than I imagined which makes me even more excited to continue to developing my leadership capacity. There are so many opportunities still to come to help evolve my leadership tool kit.
Energized is how I would describe how I feel about the future as I continue learning more about different leadership styles, methodologies, and strategies. Of course, the task is then to decode all the information using a localized lens and determine how best to adapt to my community and workplace setting.
One of the evolutionary steps that have occurred in my development is that I now step back and separate myself from certain decisions or situations. In the past I always assumed that I needed to have an answer for everyone or needed to resolve all problems. I felt as a “good” leader it was my responsibility to find solutions or risk letting my team down. I do understand that is still my role to some degree but a healthier model of leadership is to mentor my team to become their own problem solvers.
Another surprise is I have learned to see failing as a growth opportunity. Generally, I always assumed that as a leader I could not fail because if I did somehow my leadership was in jeopardy. What I didn’t realize is that the fear of failing can also stifle or deter my growth. Now I cannot picture my leadership development without seeing failure as an asset. Maybe this is also self-care; maybe this is part of evolving from a leader that only has lead, to one who is now seeking to provide my staff with guidance and growth opportunities. Either way an acceptance of the possibility of failure in my decisions and in my role has made me more fearless and propelled me to challenge myself. I like this new outlook for myself.
Another startling insight I had is that I see that I am not only geographically isolated, but in many ways I am professionally isolated. It’s true the isolation has always been there, but because of the opportunities I have had in the last year I feel it more. Leadership development cannot exist in a vacuum. When I attend leadership events, or when I gather with my colleagues, I thrive on the engaging conversations and I return home strengthened. In my work and in my community I am isolated from people that are in a position similar to mine. Going to workshops and meetings with professional colleagues rejuvenates my spirit and enlightens my understanding. I am at the center for many people that need mentoring and connection, and yet I have restricted access to professional colleagues that can do the same for me. Establishing a new set of priorities is important for my continued development.
One of the most effective and useful strategies I have developed as a Bush Fellow is the skill of self-reflection and self-assessment. My leadership style has changed since I learned how to reflect and assess my own leadership methodology in a good way. This was definitely not easy at first. As a person that is committed and proud of the work I have done so far in my career, I squirmed when I first began to look at leadership moments in my life. The first few times that you engage in a self-reflection process can be grueling but it’s a meaningful piece and great opportunity for growth.
With my fellowship, I expressed a strong desire to focus on utilizing Lakota culture in my leadership development journey. This has been a more complicated endeavor than I imagined. Cultivating cultural leadership skills, values, and experiences into my fellowship journey is critical to my long-term personal and leadership development. Although culture is always and constantly present in my community, utilizing and integrating culture into an organization that has a decades long history is complex. I want to evolve our organizational ethos to be culturally inclusive to the fullest degree possible. Integrating Lakota cultural values into our organizational structure will be challenging but I am committed to this change. Including cultural values will have a significant impact on my personal leadership journey, but more importantly expanded cultural inclusion at the organizational level will have a profound impact on the youth we serve. From what I have learned and experienced, the development of cultural leadership values is an individualized spiritual journey. This aspect of leadership development is unfolding and revealing itself along its own trajectory and pathway to me.
I am beginning to engage at the edges of cultural experiences and these initial experiences are starting to shape and mold my cultural leadership development. At first I was very unsure because Lakota culture is a way of life, and I found myself exploring the questions, “how do you incorporate or package culture into a leadership style?” What I have learned is that this can’t be done. Cultural experiences and cultural development must be nurtured. I have had to challenge myself to engage in new and unfamiliar processes and settings.
I am open to having courage to challenge myself. This newly realized courage is what has propelled me to challenge myself in my cultural leadership development. I have sought out mentors that can provide me with cultural understanding and experiences that I would have never opened myself up to before. As an individual that predominantly utilized western leadership styles and standards, now through the opportunities that my Fellowship has provided to me, I am able to seek new and different experiences that have catalyzed my leadership growth in very new and dynamic ways.
One thing that I fully realize now is as a leader I need to take care of myself. I need to make sure that I am doing things and making decision that is healthy for me and that are good for me. Accepting that fact that I cannot solve every problem, and realizing that I do not have to have all the answers, has lifted a burden from my shoulders, and has opened me up to a very different perspective. As a leader I can help other people solve their own problems but do not have to step in and take on their burdens. This has been liberating in so many ways. I do not have all the answers, and I do not need to. I do not have to sacrifice my happiness, my health and my sanity to be a viewed as a leader who cares. I see new possibilities.
This is definitely a journey and not a destination……..