Lessons Learned Through “Mirrors, Magnifying Glasses and Telescopes”
I have gained so much from my Bush Fellowship so far. It has provided an invaluable opportunity for me to reflect, refresh, and refuel as I seek to fulfill my untapped potential and, ultimately, design my legacy as a transformative leader. I have come to deeply appreciate the value of “creating space to create” (i.e. consciously shifting focus from doing to being) in order to meaningfully connect with others, continually confirm my path is the right one, and create sustainable community-based programming that solves serious problems.
As I approach the six-month mark for my yearlong Fellowship, my learning experiences are best summarized through three viewpoints symbolized as mirrors, magnifying glasses, and telescopes. “Mirrors” represent experiences over the past six months that have allowed me to look at and authentically assess myself as a leader. “Magnifying glasses” reflect educational opportunities the Fellowship has provided to research and closely examine issues relevant to hopelessness and youth in order to apply what is most important to my work. “Telescopes” symbolize exposure to new networks of people and potential collaborative relationships once far off, but now much nearer.
Each distinct viewpoint has contributed to my leadership development. Learning to seamlessly shift focus from one to another has refined my skills in converging and diverging from minutia to the monumental and personal to the big picture. Precious moments of trifocal confluence where I can clearly see how my leadership aligns with my calling and that of others are powerful, energizing, and overwhelming all at once. As I’ve sought to live and lead each day with an integrated view, at times my vision of who I want to be and what I need to do as a transformative leader has blurred, going in and out of focus. Overall, though, I am strengthened by a deep sense that my emerging leadership vision is important to my community and becoming sharper daily and more vivid like an eagle’s whose acuity, scope, and ability to discriminate colors and shades far exceeds others.
Lessons Learned Through “Mirrors”
By definition, mirrors reflect clear images and provide accurate representations. The Latin root for “mirror” is “to look at.” The Bush Fellowship has provided various “mirrors” or opportunities to more closely look at my leadership character, behavior, and development. “Mirrors” such as the CDR (Character-Drivers-Rewards) assessment and Bush retreat sessions have provided new insight into my leadership strengths and growth areas. Exposure and connection to the other 23 phenomenal 2014 Bush Fellows and their work have also served as “mirrors” and motivators for my own work.
Moreover, the Fellowship has supported me in redefining my leadership role and responsibilities within our organization, which expedited the appointment and development of other leaders. As I have stepped off and let go to fully pursue this opportunity, new leaders have stepped up and emerged. In a relatively short time, I have completely transformed from founder/leader to coach/leader of leaders.
Additionally, the Fellowship has afforded me the time and space away from my normal pace and level of production to really look at and assess where I am going, who I am becoming, and make adjustments wherever my leadership image is not clear, accurate, developed, or sustainable. Throughout the process I have also had to learn how to keep looking forward when my vision gets derailed or hazy until it returns to focus, usually with greater refinement.
Reading John Hope Bryant’s book Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World affirmed my insistence on the importance of character and values as central to leadership development, especially in our youth programming. It has also served as a “mirror” of accountability regarding my own character and values. As I anticipate having a more pronounced leadership voice as a result of this Fellowship, I have mentally mapped out a strategic, offensive plan on how to stay true to my values, build relationships in alignment with them, and seek to always lead with the most important one of all - love.
Looking at myself through the various “mirrors” has not always been easy, pretty or fun over the past six months. In some ways, my process has mirrored the caterpillar’s slow, messy and ugly metamorphosis (i.e., chrysalis) to becoming a butterfly. Like the caterpillar whose chrysalis process takes anywhere from one month to one year during which all of its old body parts undergo a remarkable transformation, I have had my own transformative process of learning how to slow down, stand still, stay open, stretch beyond my comfort zone, remain flexible, endure messiness (and not rush to clean everything up), be patient, continually make room for the new, let go of my old “skin” (i.e., image), pay close attention to others, listen intently for next steps, and value every divinely orchestrated stage in my development.
A metamorphosis is definitely taking place in me. I am encouraged in the end, like the caterpillar, I will emerge as a transformative leader whose ready to fly.
Lessons Learned Through “Magnifying Glasses”
A magnifying glass enlarges images and increases or exaggerates the importance or effect of whatever is in focus, making it greater in size or importance. For those of us engaged in education and youth development, we are immersed in a dizzying discourse on disparities and achievement gaps. Many combative efforts are focused on increasing ACT/SAT and other standardized test scores, improving teacher qualifications and accountability, and strengthening core content standards. While I don’t discount the relevance of those issues, through my Fellowship’s self-directed study of neuroscience and other research, I am gaining a magnified viewpoint of the importance of other issues often overlooked in many dialogues on disparities.
Specifically, I am learning how nurturing hope, aspiration, self-esteem, confidence, creativity, resilience, and other non-cognitive character attributes not only leads to academic achievement for youth, but also lifelong success. As I work to design a premiere community-based youth leadership development and college readiness program, I see more clearly the vital importance of placing non-cognitive skill development at the center of our curriculum.
I also have a magnified view of the link between hopelessness and financial illiteracy. Through my partnership with Operation Hope, a global leader in financial dignity, I am reimagining the definition of poverty beyond financial numbers. Rather, poverty and wealth are best defined by three things (or the lack thereof): 1) self-esteem and confidence; 2) role models and environment; and 3) aspiration (hope) and opportunity. With this framework in mind, I am refining our youth programming and curriculum to provide a more comprehensive approach to reducing high school drop out rates and eliminating achievement gaps. Collaborating with Operation Hope to bring its work to impoverished communities in Minnesota (and potentially throughout the Bush region) has increased my confidence in our collective ability to replace rampant hopelessness amongst our youth with tangible hope grounded in possibility and pathways of opportunity.
Lessons Learned Through Telescopes
Finally, “telescopes” make distant objects appear nearer, which is exactly what my Fellowship has done. The prestige of the Bush Fellowship has brought certain networks and relationships that would otherwise have been distant much closer. First and foremost, connection to the Bush family of amazing current and former fellows, committed staff, and gifted leadership has been a great gift. The opportunity to dine with Bush Board Members and attend the Independent Sector Conference has introduced to me to new relationships and knowledge. My networks have expanded locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally through the various “telescope” experiences during my Fellowship.
When I speak with youth, I often stress the importance of exposure. My greatest growth and biggest life lessons have come when I have been exposed to experiences beyond the bounds of what was familiar. Throughout my life, I have been very blessed to be exposed to people, places and things that most of my peers (even siblings) growing up in North Minneapolis have not. I am privileged in that way, which for me creates a responsibility to bless and expose others. The past six months of my Bush Fellowship has been yet another extremely privileged experience for me. On the other side, I look forward to exposing others, especially youth, to this phenomenal opportunity as well.